Sad Puppies Losing It

It’s been one week since the Hugo shortlist was released, and many pixels have been spilled in the process of discussing what just happened and what should be done next. For everybody wanting to stay informed, the summary posts in Mike Glyer’s File 770 are an invaluable resource. Here are the five published so far.

My own position has been quite eloquently presented by, among others, the critic Matthew David Surridge and the Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Margin.

Surridge, who was unknowingly on both the Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy slates and refused a fan writer Hugo nomination, discusses the ideas behind Brad Torgersen’s Sad Puppy manifesto blog posts in his long long essay. Despite the length, it’s well worth reading if you haven’t done that already. Surridge really makes an effort to take apart Torgersen’s reasoning as rigorously as possible.

Torgersen hasn’t come up with this himself, of course. He is building on the foundation of two previous Sad Puppy campaigns put together by Larry Correia. There have been some shifts in focus and in the distance kept to the more toxic personalities, but the bottom line has stayed the same: Social Justice Warriors (whoever they are — he is not very clear on that) are running the Hugo show, suppressing everything they don’t like, putting political message in front of the storytelling, complaining how wrong sorts of fans are having fun wrong and so on and so on.

The groundwork outlining all of this was mostly done by Correia, and George R.R. Martin addressed the concerns raised by him in a series of posts in his Not a Blog. In addition to debunking much of what Correia is saying, he also discusses his own history with the Hugo awards and gives us a glimpse of what the award hustle looks like from the perspective of a business insider. Here are the five parts. Correia has responded to Martin’s first three posts, but I think the fourth one was where Martin delivered the most definitive punches, so the exchange may still continue.

Brad Torgersen, on the other hand, went ominously apocalyptic and vaguely remorseful in his blog post “Science Fiction Civil War” (which he has since taken offline):

Now there is only the war. A war which nobody wants, and yet nobody can avoid. All the rancor and chaffing and preening distaste for “those who are not like us” . . . flooding forth in a wave of bitter rage that is enabled from behind the immunity and protection of ten thousand keyboards.

I have the sense that this thing is going to change us all in some way, forever — those of us who make some part of our lives in this country called science fiction. Now splintered and divided.

What’s left for a man now is to do what his heart, and God, tell him is right.

And it will be up to the future to decide if I am a hero, or a villain. Perhaps I am both?

Some other Sad and Rabid Puppies don’t seem to be on top of their game either.

Hugo-nominated novella author Tom Kratman had this to say in the comments to one of Torgersen’s recent posts (to somebody who expressed some doubts about his military career):

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Can you read a uniform? Go to my picture. Look over the left pocket. That is a Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

Pussy.

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm

And, pussy, since you’re questioning my veracity, can I have your name and address so we can “talk” about that?

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 9:59 pm

Or you can come here, to Blacksburg, Virginia. Why, I’ll even loan you a decent gun. Pussy.

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Heeerrrrreee pussypussypussypussypussy.

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 10:05 pm

Hey, anyone know who that pussy is in real life?

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Pussy, you’re not worth a discussion. You’re a cockroach. Roaches are only to be stepped on.

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Too late for an apology, fuckface,

Tom Kratman says:
April 9, 2015 at 10:29 pm

I’ll keep you posted on my progress in identifying you, pussy.

I know I made the promise earlier to read (or try reading) everything in the Hugo voter packet, but I’m not sure mr. Kratman is a person whose literary talents I want to learn more about.

Granted, maybe one shouldn’t be too hard on the Puppies. Torgersen was dishonestly described as a misogynist and racist in Entertainment Weekly. There are of course some problematic undertones in going on and on about how well-received SFF by women and people from diverse backgrounds is received so well only because of affirmative action mindset, but I think it’s best to leave it at that.

The Puppy crowd surely is anti-feminist and anti-progressive, but there’s no point in demonizing it too harshly, especially the Sad Puppy side of it. I believe there are genuine enthusiastic fans there and they have the same right to be voting Worldcon members as the rest of us. Of course, I still disagree with their anti-feminist and anti-progressive agenda, and consider it rather ridiculous.

They don’t admit they’re anti-anything, of course. They are just pro good storytelling without messagey anti-fun shit that is written and celebrated by ignorant “Perpetually Outraged, Searching For Offense, Quick to Accuse Racism/Sexism/Homophobia/Privilege/Patriarchy, Holier Than Thou, Politics Before Fun, Unholy Cross Between Communists and Puritans, Twitter Lynch Mob Forming, Career Sabotaging, Social Justice Crusaders” (as Larry Correia so eloquently puts it) who happen to always win the Hugos.

I can see that Larry Correia may have been jeered at by some people in the SFF fandom because of his public image as a Conservative arms-loving guy writing simple shoot-out adventures. That’s feasible.

The thing I have trouble with is understanding how anybody in their right mind can think, for example, that a Hugo winner like the Charles Stross novella Equoid is a specimen of “message fiction”. What could be more anti-political than a fucking Cthulhoid unicorn, right? We can think that leftist and liberal Stross is politically either spot-on or complete loony, but despite that we can still agree on his story about a Cthulhoid unicorn being a funny, harmless little story, right?

Puppy spokesperson Patrick Richardson said in a comment to my Master List of Unlikeable Things About Sad Puppies that I missed the political message Equoid is forcing down my readerly throat because I agree with him. He didn’t specify what political content is there in Equoid to agree with.

I asked the same thing of another Sad Puppy voter in Mad Genius Club. She verified that, yes, Equoid is messagey in her opinion. Sadly, she has not yet given any reasoning for such a statement.

The same question has been raised in Brad Torgersen’s blog. Vox Day was the only one who cared to answer there:

VD says:
February 5, 2015 at 12:42 pm

“And what is left-wing in Equiod, for example?”

The cheerful immersion in quasi-child molesting tentacle torture porn. Good Lord, you’ve rendered yourself so haplessly devoid of sense that you can’t even recognize the sickness of the quagmire in which you’re wallowing.

Science fiction used to be Boy Scouts in Space. Now you wouldn’t dare to leave the average science fiction author alone with a Boy Scout for 10 minutes.

Cheeky nonsensical insults are always nice, but that didn’t help me understand what’s wrong with Equoid, either. (In case you haven’t read it and you’re worried, it’s really not tentacle torture porn. Read it.)

The one thing missing from the SFF discussion that’s raging around the Interwebs is any actual SFF. I think it would be interesting to look closely at some stories and discuss them instead of throwing around accusations of message fiction winning all awards because TruFans and critics like tedious left-wing reading and are allergic to fun.

So tell me, what is the political bias you see in Equoid? What is it in the story, specifically, that makes you see it’s there?

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24 thoughts on “Sad Puppies Losing It

  1. yamamanama

    In a way, political or literary SFF is just like cockroaches. It was there before Kratman and it will be there long after he’s gone.

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  2. Brendan

    There was only a couple of points I could see as biased(if I squinted). There was the supposed quote of Lovecraft’s:

    “Howard Phillips Lovecraft Esq., a man of contemplative & refined sensibilities born into a decadent latter age of feral brutes menaced by the unspeakable stormclouds of Bolshevism & Jew-Fascist Negro Barbarism sweeping the old countries of Europe”

    Do the pups see themselves as the feral brutes and Lovecraft and the commie-facist jewish negro barbarians as todays SJWs?

    Then there was the bit in the police station about training the new officer in how to brutalise suspects.

    They may also have an issue with a govt. beurocrat being part of the solution, not the problem.

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    1. spacefaringkitten Post author

      Hahaha! Well, I fully expect to find some more clear-cut specimens of “message fiction” in the nominated stories by John C. Wright and Tom Kratman, but we’ll see about that.

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      1. Brendan

        Those gentlemen don’t need to do “Message fiction”. After all if you are writing about the perceived norms of the day, it isn’t message fiction it is “reality”. Isn’t it lucky we have them to tell us what our world is really like?

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    2. Charlie Stross

      Normally I’d stay well away from this, but: Equoid, from start to finish, was one huge mash-up of British cultural tropes, some of them quite obscure.

      “Then there was the bit in the police station about training the new officer in how to brutalise suspects.” Yeah, because of course PC McGarry No. 452 from the 1960’s children’s TV show “Trumpton” would be partnered with Constable Savage from the London Met (from the 1980’s adult news/comedy show “Not The Nine O’Clock News”) in a “Hot Fuzz” style tribute. And of course the outbreak of unicorns would have to happen on Cold Comfort Farm (and of course there’d be “something narsty in the woodshed”).

      Politics? Not so much in that one … (my big-ass political trilogy isn’t due until 2016.)

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      1. spacefaringkitten Post author

        Excuses don’t help, mr. Stross. Your biases has been obvious since you got 40 Hugo nominating votes in 2008 (that’s one vote less than Scalzi and that is suspicious).

        Seriously, though, there was much that I knew I wasn’t really getting when I read Equoid, not being British. Since I’m not American either, I’ve had to sort of get used to that.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. osberend

    Personal disclosure: I’m not affiliated with (and am probably on average a good deal to the left of) the Sad Puppies, but I have some sympathy for (parts of) their position, and consider myself anti-SJ. I’m haven’t followed culture wars in SF/F very closely, but they seem to have some elements in common with culture wars in tabletop RPGs, and I’m very much in the pro-Zak Smith camp (pro-Pundit, not so much) in that fight. I am currently planning to buy a supporting membership and vote based on the individual works of fiction; not having read most (any?) of them yet, I don’t know what that will amount to slate-wise.

    That said, and bearing in mind that I speak for no one but myself (and also that I don’t necessarily disagree with all aspects of the messages I perceive). . .

    The thing I have trouble with is understanding how anybody in their right mind can think, for example, that a Hugo winner like the Charles Stross novella Equoid is a specimen of “message fiction”. What could be more anti-political than a fucking Cthulhoid unicorn, right? We can think that leftist and liberal Stross is politically either spot-on or complete loony, but despite that we can still agree on his story about a Cthulhoid unicorn being a funny, harmless little story, right?
    1. Although it’s arguably not the central point, the story is dripping with amused contempt for rural “backwardness,” both technological and sociopolitical. Examples:
    (a)

    I work my way through a thought-provoking if slightly breathless memoir of “Police Cavalry v. Pinko Commie Striking Miners in the 1980s”—the thoughts it provoke focus on the urgent need to commit the author to an asylum for the violently insane—

    (b) The car.
    (c) The beer in the pub.
    (d)

    “[I]t’s the talk of the village, that and Gareth Grissom wearing a dress and saying he wants a sex change, then taking off to Brighton.” He says it with relish, and I try not to roll my eyes or pass comment on his parochial lack of savoir faire. This is rural England, after all; please set your watch back thirty years . . .”

    2. As noted above, there’s repeated mockery of Lovecraft, fitting in with the same theme of backwardness, which can easily be interpreted as implied mockery of those who are backward enough to like HPL’s work, as opposed to more “sophisticated” takes on the same theme’s, such as Stross’s own.

    3. The perversion (in the sense of twisting away from their original teloi, although in this context the sexual overtones are quite appropriate) of innocent tropes—unicorns, puppy love, and possibly Santa Claus—into something monstrous, combined with an air of mockery toward straight takes on some of those tropes (e.g. “Passing over the princess-shiny pinkness of Unicorn School™: The Sparkling with a shudder . . .”) fits into the perceived (and real, although rather overstated) pattern of leftist authors and commentators mocking “old-fashioned” notions of honor, heroism, innocence, and (especially) femininity.

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    1. spacefaringkitten Post author

      Thanks for the comment and for the interesting analysis.

      That’s arguably one way of reading it, even though I’m not sure if that’s really obvious enough to rub people the wrong way or be seen as “putting the message in front of the story”. Some conservative readers have told me that Equoid just felt boring to them and Stross’s smartass writing style is irritating. We all have our tastes.

      the story is dripping with amused contempt for rural “backwardness”

      Now that you mentioned the striking commie miners, there’s a touch of British intellectual working class attitude there. I’m not necessarily sure how that or rural England should be positioned in relation to the trenches of American culture wars, but I can see that it’s there.

      there’s repeated mockery of Lovecraft

      True. But on the other hand, he was a racist. Despite the criticism, I think you can also read this as a tribute to his work.

      The perversion of innocent tropes

      I was going to counter this criticism somehow, but enough with the defences. You have demonstrated how this could be read in an offence-taking way. Bravo.

      Liked by 1 person

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    2. Brendan

      If these are the things are seen as offensive then I am guessing that some people haven’t read much stuff from the other side of the pond.

      1a: You may want to check on the breaking of the Welsh miners strikes by Maggie Thatcher and how the miners were portrayed by by papers like Murdoch’s Sun etc.
      b: The ancient Land Rover is a common trope when writing about rural Britain and is a complement, not a put down. Because of the privations of WWII and the rationing that continued after it, the idea of “making do” became a hard and fast rule. In fact the Ag & Fish man, when he points out the mod cons(that aren’t) is being contemptuous of a soft Londoner who might need them. And rightly so.
      c: Man, you need to try a rural pub lunch. They have a history of good food and lots of it. When I was in the UK the best meal I had was in a pub called the Red Lion in Avebury, and while I was offered a tureen of gravy, using it would have been an insult to the chef. And if you are in the pub, always ask what the local beer is. There is almost always one(I had one lady apologise ’cause there wasn’t one, but she could recommend another that came from the town 30 miles away)and it will always be unique.
      To get a taste of British ruralisms, I would recommend the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Harriot and perhaps some of the Thelwell cartoon compilations.

      Skipping to 3: I reckon it a bit hard if you can’t tilt at sacred cows(to mix my metaphors) and the Santa Claus reference relates to a previous story “Overtime”

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  4. Wolf Baginski (@WolfBaginski)

    There are also a couple of layers of literary satire in Equoid. Before the Second World War there was something of a fashion for novels about the hard and traditional life of rural england. It was skewered by Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, and there are references to that all the way through Equoid. It’s arguable the CCF is itself science fiction, there are several near-future tropes used.

    That didn’t kill the genre, there are later works by A.G. Street, and it goes into the very long-running BBC Radio series The Archers. But Cold Comfort Farm is very much the pre-WW2 farming world that my father grew up in.

    Land Rovers, incidentally, are in the same class as the WW2 Jeep. It was originally just the Land Rover, and it is now the Land Rover Defender, and it’s still much the same shape. It’s an insanely rugged and modifiable 4-wheel-drive vehicle, and a few of the earliest production are still in use. This year looks to be the end. The basic design can’t meet modern safety standards.

    I’ll kill my rant about the way the rural population, in entertainment media. are depicted as the idiots necessary to show off the smarts of the protagonists. The main plot of Cold Comfort Farm is built on that trope. It’s that old. Modern farmers are using robots to milk the cows. But, despite the all the tech and science in modern farming, I am a Hobden too. The land doesn’t change.

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  5. Ver Greeneyes

    Coming here with a background of reading about GamerGate, and for that matter the Dutch ‘Zwarte Piet’ debacle, this seems like another discussion that would benefit from tossing labels out the window.

    In the Zwarte Piet ‘discussion’, someone from another cultural background labeled an entire country of people as racists. The UN independent investigator’s examples of racists traits in Zwarte Piet are entirely accurate, could easily be perceived as racist, and should probably be changed or justified in a non-racist way. But the reality is that Zwarte Piet *was not seen to represent black people* in any way in Dutch culture – if anything they were mythical creatures, representing hardworking employees, good-natured and respected. Indeed, racism against black people barely exists in Dutch culture – much more common is racism against immigrants with a Turkish or Moroccan background.

    In accusing the Dutch of racism, she completely undermined what she was trying to accomplish: instead of seeing these traits for what they are, a majority of Dutch people immediately went on the defensive, even banding together with *actual* racists in their anger. Even claims that Zwarte Piet is black with soot from climbing through chimneys, a reasonable explanation that was popular a few years back, was immediately deemed an unacceptable tarnishing of tradition.

    A similar thing happened with GamerGate. While the label originated from a misogynist source – someone trying to disparage Zoey Quinn and mock the situation surrounding her, it did not have much public visibility until the ‘gamers are dead’ articles all hit gaming press websites and sparked backlash from consumers who felt misrepresented or even betrayed.

    Many of the hashtag’s supporters are likely left-wing and do not consider themselves sexist, nevermind misogynist (two terms which are unfortunately used interchangeably these days), but they perceived the gaming press as condescending, message-pushing and promoting their friends for personal gain. At the same time, there emerged an extremist fringe of obsessive individuals who began to spend all their free time trying to dig up dirt on the gaming press, as well as harassing women and anyone they thought fit their ‘SJW’ label.

    In response, various people started labeling *all* of GamerGate’s supporters as misogynists, seeing the extremists and harassers as GamerGate’s core despite their limited numbers. As the situation developed, with the gaming media supporting these views rather than nuancing their own, this probably attracted far more *actual* misogynists with no real interest in gaming than would otherwise have cared, making the situation worse for everyone.

    There have been voices of reason in this ‘discussion’, gaming critic John Bane (TotalBiscuit) probably being prime among them (in terms of popularity, in any case) – but people have already dug their trenches, and anyone not on ‘their’ side is obviously either a misogynist or an SJW.

    But I don’t think it’s that people fundamentally disagree – at least not most of them. Surely a vast majority of people want the gaming press to be honest, and to respect their consumers (albeit not so much that they don’t dare discuss anything) – but supporters of GamerGate see examples of indiscretion as proof that the whole system needs to be torn down, whereas detractors see these examples as no more than incidental occurrences in a long history, pushed by ‘GamerGate’ to cover up its misogynist tendencies. Similarly, people involved with GamerGate don’t see themselves as misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, racist or any of the other labels that have been thrown their way – but a lot of them see most modern day feminists as caricatures of their predecessors, condescending and dismissive and misandric.

    Unfortunately with so many misogynists being drawn to GamerGate by the constant reinforcement of the notion that ‘this is the place for you’, and so many crazed tumblr feminists being drawn to the anti-GamerGate side and mostly getting a free pass, it’s difficult to say who is ‘right’. But it’s clear that the labeling in this discussion has done far more harm than good.

    I see the same thing happening here: Sad Puppies? Misogynists and racists? These labels stifle discussion – they do little but inflame and stop people from reading in disgust, the same way the term ‘mansplaining’ (ironically, a term for men dismissing women’s opinions that is itself extremely dismissive) does feminist articles very little good. I think in all of these discussions we should cast labels aside and argue only the points themselves – because until we do, those trenches are only going to grow deeper.

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    1. Ver Greeneyes

      If only I had the patience to proof-read myself before hitting the submit button. ‘racists traits in Zwarte Piet’ -> ‘racist traits in Zwarte Piet’. ‘Zoey Quinn’ -> ‘Zoe Quinn’. ‘John Bane’ -> ‘John Bain’.

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    2. Mr_Wednesday

      This “history” of Gamergate is complete horseshit. From the outset it was set to destroy a woman, and what gave it visibility were the wave of death threats, planning a school shooting, and an attempt on the life of a woman game developer. The hashtag supporters are not “likely left wing” and the declaration that they are is such immense bullshit I honestly don’t know where to start beyond pointing out that this is organized and coordinated largely through Brietbart. Total Biscuit is not one of the moderate voices, he’s one of the worst shitheels in kicking up the threats.

      Gamergate is not about journalism in any way shape of form. That’s not propaganda, it is a matter of record.

      As to the puppies being racist and misogynists, that comes from their own mouths, as are quoted in the article.

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      1. Ver Greeneyes

        You can believe what you want to believe, but your attitude is exactly the reason this shitstorm refuses to go away.

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  6. Jonathan

    Iirc much of the rural stuff was homage to Stella Gibbons’ “cold comfort farm” and without being familiar with that work one may read too much into it

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  7. Jim Smith

    I think a lot of people need to remember stories in the first person do not necessarily represent the author’s viewpoint. A lot of the “amused contempt” at the countryside is Bob reacting to Stross making the countryside as uncomfortable as possible for him. The point of the scene in the Land Rover, to my mind, is to show how out of his depth the urban Howard is, even though he’s only an hour from London.

    As for tentacle porn: well, there are tentacles all right, but no porn. Stross riffs on the relationship between horses and sexuality but there’s nothing titillating about it. There’s a huge bloody hint about his intentions at the beginning when Howard falls asleep watching Equus.

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    1. Brendan

      A quote from a review I once read:

      “for the vast majority of the populace, horse stories tend to read like porn written for 13-year-old girls.”

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  8. Mr_Wednesday

    Two points I guess

    1) All works have a political framework implicit, if not explicit, in them. That is an analysis 101 point, and part of the problem with the Puppies is that they don’t recognize their political frame as one and instead see it as the default. Thus any different political frame is an intrusion on the default, and an attempt to change, rather than simply being a different frame. With Equoid the rural vs urban differentiation is the political framework, though there are also trappings of the technology dynamism and contempt for systemic failure modes that are more common in the larger series.

    2) Kratman is playing fast and loose with the bleeding edge of Stolen Valor there. The status of “combat veteran” is awarded to everyone who was in theater during a conflict, not to people who saw combat. He is relying on people not knowing that to try and play up that he is billy badass. Nothing he says is explicitly false, but unless you know about what a combat veteran is and how that is handed out, it gives a VERY misleading impression of where he was and what he did. The status is awarded to everyone, including people who sat in air conditioned comfort hundreds of miles away from the threat of violence and never had to pull a trigger, like air force PAOs, navy sailors, and lawyers like Mr Kratman. He wants to portray himself as someone who actually did their time in the shit, and the simple fact is he didn’t.

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  9. CPaca

    @Mr Wednesday: This “history” of Gamergate is complete horseshit. From the outset it was set to destroy a woman, and what gave it visibility were the wave of death threats, planning a school shooting, and an attempt on the life of a woman game developer.

    Now that there has been a bomb threat aimed at a Gamergate meeting (*), are you going to be just as quick to label everyone on the anti-Gamergate side based on this action? Or are you going to disassociate those making bomb threats from the larger group criticizing Gamergate for reasons of, say, extremism not being representative, or possible false-flag or troll interference – while completely ignoring the fact that you wouldn’t allow Gamergaters to get away with making the same excuses?

    Does even bringing this up make you angry with me and make you assume I’m a Gamergater (which I’m not), rather than deal with those questions? If so, you might want to read up on “cognitive dissonance”.

    (*) http://www.polygon.com/2015/5/3/8539733/gamergate-bomb-threat-washington-ggindc-milo-yiannopoulos-christina-hoff-summers

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    1. spacefaringkitten Post author

      Well, I think that the numbers about whether most of the #gamergate tweets were attacking female game developers or game journalists does offer some insight on whether it was a movement for harassment or for ethics in game journalism. But I guess we all have our own narrative at this point.

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  10. CPaca

    Well, I think that the numbers about whether most of the #gamergate tweets were attacking female game developers or game journalists does offer some insight on whether it was a movement for harassment or for ethics in game journalism.

    Yes, they do – especially the graph showing that the vast proportion of tweets about the people identified as the main targets of Gamergate are neutral in tone, and that the journalists had higher proportions of negative comments. The report skips past that to make a pretty biased point about absolute numbers.

    But the GG general unwillingness to call out the misogyny in their ranks is one very good reason why I’m not on their side, just as the antiGG inability to see their own mob mentality is a good reason not to be on the other side.

    Slate had a good article describing the tangled sets of groups making up each “side”.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2014/10/how_to_end_gamergate_a_divide_and_conquer_plan.html

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