How right-wing bigots are ruining science fiction

I’m a huge science fiction fan – science fiction, please, hold the fantasy – and have been for as long as I can remember. One of the biggest events of the year for me is the Hugo Awards; for me, they’re bigger than the Oscars. I’m subscribed to get announcements of major Hugo Award news, and – as a kind of yearly tradition I have – I was thrilled to hear that the 2015 nominees were announced. But… there was something fishy about the nominations.

Skimming the list, I noticed this one name kept popping up again… and again… and again… and again. “John C. Wright”. He was nominated for Best Short Story, Best Novelette, Best Related Work, and for 3 out of the 5 nomination spots for Best Novella. Holy crap this guy must be awesome, right? So… how come I’ve never heard of him?

Now I’m not exactly “connected” to the science fiction literary scene. I just like the stories, really. I can’t be arsed to follow the politics of the various writers’ associations and whatnot. I have virtual zero knowledge of what the writers do outside of the actual writing – I know almost all of them only through their works. In fact, I only found out during the buzz of the Ender’s Game film that Orson Scott Card is a homophobic asshole. And I only found out somewhere in the middle of last year that China Miéville is a man (I assumed he was a she because of the name and because the only book of his I’d read – The Scar – had a female protagonist… that’ll teach me a lesson about assuming). There are a handful I know of from other things: Cory Doctorow for his free culture work, John Scalzi from his social justice work, and so on – but in all of these cases I read their science fiction works then discovered their other interests. Generally I only know of science fiction authors by their work, and nothing else.

In the case of John C. Wright, I knew nothing about the guy. I hadn’t even heard his works recommended. Never even seen them in the stores. That was just… weird. There have been several awesome authors who just came out of nowhere (from my perspective) over the years – like Paolo Bacigalupi and Michael Chabon – but in all of those cases I at least knew about them by the time they were nominated. There was a ton of buzz for The Windup Girl and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and Chabon was already well-established as a top-notch non-genre writer. In this case, I knew absolutely nothing about this Wright guy, which wouldn’t have been shocking if he’d gotten one nomination… but six?! Including three in one category.

No… something was fishy. But I had no idea what.

So I started with Wikipedia. His page had a fair amount of content, but it also had the stink of self-promotion – or at least, one-sided promotion by his fans. For example, it mentioned that he was called this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent by a trade magazine… for his first novel from back in 2002. Okay, hyperbolic (and probably paid-for) promotion aside, how could I have not heard of this guy if he’s THAT good? The rest of the page is devoted solely to a list of his books and one tiny paragraph of bio that mostly focuses on his religious beliefs. Okay, he was nominated for a Nebula back in 2005, but there seems to be literally nothing else to say about the guy. Even his fans on Wikipedia couldn’t find anything of interest to add to the article.

Ah, but then I checked the talk page of his Wikipedia article… and there I saw the first signs of trouble: the aftermath of an edit war. It appears the guy is a homophobic bigot.

Okay, fine, sure – he wouldn’t be the first homophobic bigot to win a Hugo – but that still didn’t explain his (likely) record-breaking nomination showing this year. What, after a dozen years of mediocre SF he suddenly pulls an annus mirabilis last year? Yeah, colour me skeptical.

A bit more googling of his name and “Hugo Awards” turned up a new key phrase: “Sad Puppies”.

If you’re a pure-hearted science fiction fan, and want to maintain your love for the genre and the belief that the Hugo Awards represent at least some kind of overview of the best the field has to offer… stop reading now. It’s about to get really, really ugly.

It turns out the “Sad Puppies” are a gang of right-wing, homophobic, misogynist, racist, assholes. Now, you may be rolling your eyes and saying to yourself, “oh, Indi, you’re exaggerating, surely”. No, actually. I’m really not. I’m actually being quite fair-handed with that description. Yes, seriously. As I told you, it’s about to get really, really ugly.

Take Wright himself, for example. Apparently he is more well-known for his homophobic rants than his books (which would be why I have never heard of him). In fact, as near as I can tell, his greatest claim to fame appears to be a hate-filled screed against The Legend of Korra… solely because two characters were outed as lesbians. Yeah, really.

But he’s hardly the only one. His publisher, “Vox Day” is even more appalling. Day appears to be the only person ever voted to be expelled from the Science Fiction Writers of America.*

(* Some people would argue he was the second person expelled, and point to Stanisław Lem in 1976. But that’s not what actually happened. What really happened was Lem was offered an “Honorary Membership” (that is, a non-official, non-dues-paying membership) in 1973, because he wasn’t eligible for a real membership. He promptly turned around and insulted the SFWA. Three years later, someone noticed that Lem never actually met the criteria for the “Honorary Membership”, so it was revoked. Some people argue that was just to stick it to Lem, but others still wanted him in the club. Regardless, Lem was offered a regular (dues-paying) membership – in fact, Frederick Pohl actually offered to pay his dues for him. He declined. So he was never actually expelled – he was merely “in-but-not-in” using a special privilege he didn’t deserve, and when that was taken away he was free to join as a normal member.)**

(** How do I know so much about what happened to Stanisław Lem? Hang around Polish people long enough, you will get an earful about him. (And Chopin, etc., etc..) Also, I checked it out, and got the story straight from the mouths of Poul Anderson’s (who was the SFWA president who gave Lem the honorary membership) widow and Frederick Pohl (who was the SFWA president who took it away).)

Now, the SFWA is hardly known for its quality membership – it counts among its members Orson Scott Card and sex-assualter Harlan Ellison. Neither of those guys has been expelled. What did Day do to get himself expelled?

He used the SFWA’s official twitter account to call N. K. Jemison a “half-savage”.

Yeah. Holy shit.

That’s not even all! He actually makes blog posts blaming America’s problems on… and I quote… infestation… by African, Asian, and Aztec cultures.

Holy fucking shit, right?

There’s plenty more of course. You can hardly be surprised, after seeing that much, that these are the kinds of guys who also rail against “feminist agendas” and so on. I really don’t want to repeat any more of their shit, so if you really want to hear it, google it yourself.

Basically the “Sad Puppies” are – as I said – a gang of right-wing, homophobic, misogynist, racist, assholes. Their entire “beef” with contemporary science fiction is that it is, they claim, a liberal conspiracy – the name “Sad Puppies” comes from “Sad Puppies Think of the Children”, mocking “liberal bleeding-hearts”. Yeah, seriously – it’s pretty hard to object to being labelled “assholes” when your biggest criticism of your opponents is that they have empathy. Their argument is that liberals have controlled the Hugo Awards for decades, so they were just “taking them back”. Never mind the bald-faced stupidity of that argument, of course – such as if it were true that liberals were gaming the system for years, why didn’t they just point to them doing it (the same way everyone is now pointing to the “Sad Puppies”’ actions now) – anyone who’s dealt with right-wing nuts knows that reality isn’t a factor in their “mental” calculations.

So the “Sad Puppies” are a gang of right-wing, homophobic, misogynist, racist, assholes, and they’ve targeted science fiction. That’s the extent of the bad news, right? It can’t possibly get any worse.

Unfortunately, it can. I can sum it up with one word: GamerGate.

Now, the “Sad Puppies” and their rogues’ gallery membership was new to me… but GamerGate I know well. Not the individuals involved, of course, but the “movement” itself. It’s hard not to know about them, given the amount of trouble they’ve caused. This is a group that is angry, ignorant, petty, bigoted, hateful, and dangerous… it boggles my mind that they haven’t been formerly classified as a hate group yet. They are well known for their death and rape threats, of course, but in some cases it has even escalated to dangerous assaults via their “SWATting” tactic – that nobody’s been killed in one of those is a fluke more than anything else.

It’s not just that the “Sad Puppies” are associated with GamerGate. They have actually consciously adopted the latter’s cause. They are, in their own minds, “GamerGate for science fiction”. If you weren’t already horrified and disgusted enough by the “Sad Puppies”, learning that these are people who looked to GamerGate and thought “hey, nice idea!” should be the clincher.

So what actually happened? Well, the “Sad Puppies” were apparently spun up into a mindless frothing frenzy by Vox Day, based on bone-headed ideas of “liberal conspiracies” and whatnot. They were then urged by Day to flood the Hugo nomination process and vote for a slate of candidates… not based on quality so much as ideological purity.

The fact that this slate was chosen by Day, and included Day and writers he publishes (like John C. Wright), seems to have completely flown over the heads of his apparently modestly intellectually-endowed crowd. Sad Puppies Think like the Children, I suppose.

Unfortunately, Day’s logically absurd and transparently self-serving tactic actually worked. You see, it’s never taken many votes to skew the Hugos. It would have just taken the subtlest nudge for Day to get his own stable of writers well-represented… but “subtle” is probably lost on people like that.

And while there have certainly been campaigns for specific works in the past, and lists of suggested works of course, never before has there been a situation where one group has set up a slate designed to clog up the nominations with their own shit, and block out other nominees. That’s really where the problem lies: though they technically broke no rules, they twisted the process to hurt other writers, rather than to merely promote works they liked. The “Sad Puppies” slate was not designed to put their favourite works on the nomination list (where they could then compete fairly with other works), it was specifically designed to keep the works of those they were ideologically opposed to off the list. It was a truly asshole move.

But it worked. The Hugos ended up flooded with nominees from the “Sad Puppies” slate. So science fiction had its own GamerGate, but much worse. At least in gaming, the GamerGate movement has accomplished nothing beyond harassing a few individuals… which is bad, certainly, but in science fiction the analogous movement has managed to fuck up an entire genre, possibly beyond repair. (In addition to harassing a few individuals, natch.)

Bear in mind that I’ve simplified the myriad complexities and factions and scheming going on here. For example, there were actually two “Puppies” groups – the “Sad Puppies” and the “Rabid Puppies”. The latter group was Day’s, using his transparently self-serving slate and urging his followers to nominate the whole slate to crowd out anything and everything else. The “Sad Puppies” were similar but less, well, rabid. I have no qualms about lumping them together, though. One may have been slightly more transparently loopy than the other, but their underlying aims were the same.

I’m not actually angry so much as I am horrified and saddened – almost to tears – by what’s been done. And for what? To stick it to liberals? You ruined science fiction’s highest award for such a petty reason?

To illustrate how much damge the “Sad Puppies” have managed to do, Deirdre Saoirse Moen put together an outline of all the awards with the “Sad Puppies”’ nominees removed. Take a look at that. At time of writing (because it’s been in flux, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment), there are five categories that have been completely swamped by the “Sad Puppies”. Five others have only a single untainted nomination. And that’s an improvement over what was initially announced, because some nominees on the “Sad Puppies” slate have either been found ineligible or withdrawn and been replaced with non-slate entries. Of the 16+1 Hugo Awards (the Best New Writer award is technically not a Hugo, it’s the “Campbell”) only one – Best Fan Artist – is untainted.

Of course, not everyone on the “Sad Puppies” slate is a homophobic, racist, asshole – and not everyone on their slate asked to be there. Some are probably still not even aware of it (I can’t imagine Jim Butcher would have found out, unless someone went out of their way to tell him (EDIT: Mike Glyer points out in the comments that Butcher does know – I’d assumed he was “big” enough to be “above” the whole thing – and it appears he’s okay with it, sadly)). Nevertheless, all of their works have been tainted with the stink of association. One can’t help but ask whether they’re nominated on merit or just because the “Sad Puppies” found them ideologically acceptable. And of course, one can’t help but wonder if there were more deserving works shoved out of the nomination list by “Sad Puppies” ideologically-acceptable works.

And the predictable fallout has already begun. Annie Bellet, who wrote the nominated short story “Goodnight Stars”, withdrew her story. Her withdrawal announcement is heartbreaking. Marko Kloos was also on one of the “Sad Puppies” slates, and withdrew his novel Lines of Departure. The ballots have been locked in now, but that doesn’t mean the bleeding will stop. Connie Willis was supposed to present the Campbell Award… she has backed out.

And that may just be the tip of the iceberg. George R. R. Martin has weighed in. More than once. J. Michael Straczynski has even called for the entire 2015 Hugo Awards to be cancelled.

Moen explains why Straczynski’s suggestion about cancelling the award can’t work. I agree with her… however, I wonder if there’s still a way. It seems to me that all the WSFS would have to do is simply let the awards go on (though there’s no need to bother with the ceremony) for 2015 and 2016 – and maybe even 2017 – while they figure out how to fix the exploit and actually implement the changes into the constitution… then rewrite the constitution to explicitly revoke the 2015–2017 awards. Legitimate nominees can simply be told right now that this will happen – that the 2015–2017 awards are only a temporary, anomalous blip. Then in 2018 (or maybe spread over a 2018–2020), in addition to the (now fixed) awards for that year, they can do a “short-term retro Hugo” for 2015–2017… that uses the newly fixed rules. And of course, anyone who “won” or was “nominated” in the tainted 2015–2017 awards will no longer be allowed to claim that they were… only the nominees and winners in the new, untainted “2015–2017 ‘retro’” awards are the true 2015–2017 Hugo Award winners and nominees.

And why not? It’s their constitution. They can write it however they please. They can make 2015–2017 a special case, or write a clause that allows them to do this for any future award that gets tainted somehow. They could even write in their constitution that any work published or edited by any of the “Sad Puppy” ringleaders is ineligible from now on. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.

Anyway, this post isn’t about analyzing the mechanics of what happened, or suggesting solutions. It’s really just a cry of pain and hurt at what the “Sad Puppies” have done. It was utterly unnecessary – they could just as easily have created their own award, according to whatever standards they please. Why fuck up the Hugos for everyone else? Just to show you can?

Even if the WSFS “fixes” the exploit (even if they do as I suggest and completely revoke the awards and nominations in the exploited years, and re-do them under new, fixed rules), the hurt will still remain.

And the “Sad Puppies” have ultimately “won” nothing. I will never read or recommend anything written by John C. Wright. Or Vox Day. Or anything by anyone on the “Sad Puppies” slates who has not publicly denounced them and withdrawn their nominations. Ever. Ever, ever. Not even their future works.

This may sound extreme, but I think it is important to send a clear message that not only is the behaviour of the “Sad Puppies” reprehensible, so is benefiting from it.

If you’re a science fiction fan, I hope you’re as horrified as me at what these “Sad Puppies” have done to our beautiful genre. But I hope like me, you haven’t yet given up hope. If the Hugos are ruined… fuck ’em. We’ll find new ways to celebrate the best of the genre. Maybe even better ways – ways that give more opportunities to writers that don’t normally get a fair shot with the Hugos. Maybe one day we’ll be talking about the “winner of the 2025 Ursula Award”.

For now, I will now be looking out for Marko Kloos’ Lines of Departure, and Annie Bellet’s “Goodnight Stars”. If they are good, I will be rooting for both of them have plenty of success in future, untainted Hugos… including a “retro 2105 Hugo”, if possible.

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How right-wing bigots are ruining science fiction by Indi in the Wired is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

3 Responses to How right-wing bigots are ruining science fiction

  1. Jim Butcher was a guest of honor at this year’s British Eastercon, consequently he was told of his nomination and about the slate endorsement immediately as it came out.

    Because you’ve made such a thorough effort to document the facts that you are working with, I knew you would want to be aware of that.

    • Ah, thanks for letting me know. But I have to be upfront about the fact that I really haven’t put all that much effort into fact-checking. In fact, I even deliberately conflated the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” (mostly because I don’t see any real difference between them, in the larger scheme). I tried not to be obviously wrong, but I didn’t really try to be *right*.

      I point this out because I don’t want anyone to take what I’ve written as authoritative. This post wasn’t really intended to document the shenanigans – many others have done that in far better detail. It was really just a cry of despair more than anything else.

      I will add that note about Butcher, though. That is indeed good to know.

  2. Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Puppies of War 4/19 | File 770

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