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Where’s the Beef?

April 9, 2015

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Now we get to the crux of the matter.

So… what is behind Puppygate? What is it the Sad Puppies want? They have been doing this for three years now, three separate campaigns, with a fourth threatened… and presumably a fifth, a sixth, and a seventh if this goes on. That’s a lot of effort, a lot of hours, a lot of commitment. To what end? What’s their grievance?

I’ve read Brad Torgensen’s statements on this point, and I’ve read Correia’s MONSTER HUNTER NATION, and I’ve read hundreds of comments from their supporters. As with any large group, there is a wide range of opinion. Some of the Puppies are relatively moderate and reasonable. Others, I fear, are beyond the pale, raging and ranting about SJWs and cliques and secret conspiracies.

Digesting all of this, and trying to filter out the rabid extremists who seem mostly just to want to hurt liberals and feminists and gays, the essence of the Puppy complaint seems to be that the Hugo Awards have been taken over by the left, by their “Social Justice Warriors,” and these “CHORFs” (another offensive made-up term, like SJWs) have rigged the awards somehow so that only members of their own leftish “clique” or those writer who are willing to “kiss their ass” win, while other books and stories are ignored or excluded, and other writers are “blacklisted.”

Breaking down the complaints further, this purported exclusion seems to take several different forms, which vary according to which Puppy is speaking:
(1) some say the exclusion is political in nature, that conservative and libertarian writers are being unfairly shut out,
(2) others charge religious discrimination, insisting the Christian writers and “writers of Faith” are the ones being excluded,
(3) there’s a racial component in some comments (not from the Puppy leaders, but from their followers), wherein we are told that “straight white men” are the victims here,
(4) and finally, there’s the literary argument, wherein we are told that the ballots are full of bad boring crappy stories that no one really likes, placed there in some nefarious manner by the secret SJW cliques, whereas good old-fashioned SF and fantasy, the stuff the readers really love, is shut out and ignored.

Do I have the essence of it, Puppies and Puppylovers? I am leaving out any of the charges? Is this the source of all the anger, of this “revolt,” of this determination to “take back SF?”

Because if it is… well, someone has sold you a bill of goods.

Let’s look at the facts, shall we? I accept and acknowledge that some of the Puppies may feel excluded, disrespected, shunned… but feelings and facts are two different things.

Number (3) is the easiest to disprove. Straight white men are being excluded. Really? Really? C’mon, guys. Go look at the last five, ten years of Hugo ballots. Count how many men were nominated. Count how many women. Now count the black writers and the Asian writers and the foreign-language writers. Yes, yes, things are changing. We have a lot more women and minorities being nominated than we did in 1957, say, or even 1987… but the ballots are still way more white and way more male than not. Look, I am hardly going to be in favor of excluding straight white men, being one myself (and no, I am not a fan of Tempest Bradford’s challenge). I am in favor of diversity, of inclusion, of bringing writers from many different backgrounds and cultures into the field. I don’t want straight white writers excluded from the ballot… I just don’t think they need to have ALL of it. I mean, we’re SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FANS, we love to read about aliens and vampires and elves, are we really going to freak out about Asians and Native Americans?

Let’s put that one aside, and look at the other three allegations. Are the Hugos biased against conservative writers, religious writers, or writers of the “good old stuff,” military SF, planetary adventures, space opera, sword & sorcery, hard science, and the like?

The Puppies say yes. I say no. The facts agree with me.

This chart is couple of years old, and therefore outdated a bit, but it still provides a very valuable overview of the history of the awards, who has won them, who has been nominated. So here are the records, albeit a few years out of date:

(Before we get into the listings, let me repeat once again my contention that IT IS AN HONOR TO BE NOMINATED. Sure, it’s a bigger honor to win. But being on the shortlist is nothing to sneeze at, and I say that as the co-founder of the Hugo Losers Club).

What do we see on that list? Well, for a start, it is much easier to rack up lots and lots of nominations in the categories where one votes for a person rather than a work (Best Artist, Best Editor, Best Fan Writer). British humorist Dave Langford leads everyone with 55 nominations and 29 wins. Mike Glyer of FILE 770 is close behind with 52 nominations but only 9 wins. Then comes the late Charles N. Brown, editor and publisher of LOCUS, and Tor/ Signet/ Timescape/ Berkley editor David G. Hartwell, and Mike Resnick, and then Stan Schmidt, editor of ANALOG.

Some of these perennial nominees are liberal politically, I suspect, but none of those could be said to push a political agenda, or wear their politics on their sleeves. No SJWs here. On the other hand, Stan Schmidt edited ANALOG for longer than John W. Campbell did, and during all those decades it was the most conservative magazine in the field, the hard science mag, the choice of engineers everywhere, where the flag of Campbellian SF flew high. Now it is true, Stan never won, not until the year he retired. But he was nominated thirty-five times. Is that your definition of exclusion? Resnick… a very prolific writer, and by this list, the guy with the most nominations ever for fiction, rather than fanac or editing. Resnick, as I am sure the Puppies know, was at the center of the SFWA BULLETIN flap and lost the column that he and Barry Malzberg had written for decades… which hardly makes him a poster boy for the left. David Hartwell… well, Dave works for Tor, which some of the more extreme Puppies may count against him, but he’s also worked for many other publishers, and he’s edited many many writers from both right and left. I seem to recall it was Hartwell who first discovered John Wright, this year’s six-time Puppy favorite nominee.

So far I see moderates, conservatives, Campbellians, and the apolitical. I see no SJWs.

How about total number of WINS? Well, once again you’ve got Langford, the fannish humorist and wit, publisher of ANSIBLE, at 29, tied with Charlie Brown of LOCUS. Charlie was champion of a more ambitious, literary style of SF, but he loved the classic old stuff too. A Vance fan, a Heinlein fan. Gardner Dozois and Michael Whelan each had 15 when this list came out. Gargy’s an editor, a very important and influential editor, and yes, he’s a liberal… but once again, he also loves a good story. He’s edited space opera anthologies (THE GOOD OLD STUFF and THE GOOD NEW STUFF) and with me, OLD MARS and OLD VENUS, retro-SF that PLANET STORIES would have loved. Whelan’s an artist. A brilliant one. And next down… CONNIE WILLIS. It says here she’s won 11 times, but I think she’s won a few more since. Connie’s a woman, yes, and she’s liberal politically (though far from radical). She’s also religious. She has been singing in her Church choir for decades, she attends church regularly. Of course, she’s Episcopalian, so I am not sure that “counts” for some of the Puppies, who only seem to grant that a writer is religious if he or she shares their own religion.

Going further down the all-time list… there’s Richard E. Geis (politically hard right, sexually and socially left) with 34 nominations, Robert Silverberg (conservative) with 28. Further down, past some fans and artists, there’s liberal old me with 19 nominations (15 losses and 4 wins when this list was drawn up), tied with conservative Larry Niven.

One huge name not on the list: Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein did not rack up a lot of noms, since most of his short work was done before the Hugos were created. But he won Best Novel (the Big One) FOUR TIMES, a record that stands to this day (Lois McMaster Bujold tied him, but no one has yet exceeded him). RAH is not easy to characterize politically… he started out as a New Deal Democrat, even ran for office on the EPIC ticket, later became Republican and conservative on many issues… but socially was extremely progressive in his youth, and retained many liberal and libertarian opinions on sexuality and religious matter right up to his death in 1988.

If you’re looking for SJWs on this list, well… there’s Harlan Ellison and Ursula K. Le Guin. Harlan was certainly a firebrand, and Ursula was the field’s most eloquent and respected feminist for decades. They are also two of the greatest talents that SF has ever produced. Both SFWA Grandmasters, both firmly ensconsced in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, beloved of generations of readers. It would be hard to argue that either was created by a “clique.”

Oh, oh, okay, I can hear the Sad Puppies barking out their objections. “We never said the Hugo Awards were ALWAYS dominated by a leftist clique,” they are barking. “We only said that the SJWs took them over recently, and ruined them. That’s when all the good books and all the writers we like got excluded.”

Okay, fine. Fair enough. Let’s narrow our focus, then, and look only at the recent past, at the ballots that somehow triggered Puppygate. No rhetoric, just facts.

We know about this year’s ballot, the Sasquan ballot. Puppies puppies everywhere, thanks to Sad Puppies 3 and the Rabid Puppies. Last year, the Loncon ballot… well, that was the year of Sad Puppies 2, and that campaign, if not quite the sweep, did put Vox Day and Larry Correia and several other Puppy faves on the shortlist, so we’ll pass over that one too. To see how powerful the liberal SJW cliques truly were, we need to go back to a time before Correia and Day and their followers rose up to smite them.

Let’s look at 2012. LoneStarCon 3, San Antonio, in that notoriously liberal state of Texas. 1343 nominating ballots were received. 1848 final ballots chose the winners.

The Big One, Best Novel, went to John Scalzi for REDSHIRTS. He won out over 2312 by Kim Stanly Robinson, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed, BLACKOUT by Mira Grant, and CAPTAIN’S VORPATIL’S ALLIANCE by Lois McMaster Bujold. Three men, three women. Two white men, one Arab-American. Do the Puppies object to these nominees? Is this the clique slate? Hard to see why. One Tor book, one from DAW, one from Baen, two from Orbit; no publisher had a stranglehold here, certainly. Scalzi — look, I know Scalzi is liberal, and I know that the Puppies seem to hate him, though I can’t for the life of me understand why — but whatever you think of the writer’s politics, REDSHIRTS is a light, fun, amusing SF adventure, an affectionate riff off of STAR TREK, Ghu help us. And the other nominees… only the Robinson could even remotely be considered “literary SF” of the sort the Puppies seems to hate. Saladin’s book was sword & sorcery, a rollicking swashbuckler in the tradition of Robert E. Howard, Harold Lamb, and the Thousand and One Nights. Bujold, well, you could call her Miles Vorkosigan series space opera, or maybe military SF, but her novels are never less than entertaining, good reads all. The Mira Grant is a zombie novel. Zombies, guys.

Now, do I think these were the best five novels of 2012? Actually, no. As best I recall, I only nominated one of them… along with a couple of books that did not make the ballot. (You can find out which ones if you look back on my Not A Blog for that year’s recs). But it’s a pretty typical ballot, worse than some, better than others, with ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE of any kind of “social justice” agenda or conspiracy.

Let’s look further down the LoneStarCon ballot. Novella: won by “The Emperor’s Soul,” by Brandon Sanderson, a pretty traditional story by an epic fantasist who also happens to be Mormon. (Where is that religious bigotry? Did the SJWs miss him?) One of the other nominees was by Aliette de Bodard, who many Puppies seem to count as one of the despised SJWs, but if the secret cabal was working for her, they fucked it up, because she lost. The other nominees were Nancy Kress, Jay Lake, and (again) Mira Grant. So far maybe we have some evidence of a Mira Grant clique, but none of a Social Justice clique.

Go to Novelette. Won by “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi,” by Pat Cadigan. A brilliant story from a long time fan who had never won a Hugo before, and hadn’t even been nominated for decades. The most popular win of the evening; the crowd in the hall went wild cheering. Pat won over two stories by Seanan McGuire (also known as Mira Grant), one by Catherynne Valente, and one by Thomsas Olde Heuvelt. Was it this shortlist that provoked the Puppies? Four women and only one man there, is that the issue? A surfeit of McGuire/ Grant, maybe? Or were there some brilliant conservative novelettes that year that were overlooked? I honestly do not know.

Short Story only had three nominees. Ken Liu won over Aliette de Bodard and Kij Johnson. The SJWs are really letting down the side, that’s twice they left de Bodard lose. (I hope I remembered to give her a Hugo Loser ribbon, she certainly earned it). No other short story had 5% of the nominating ballots, which is why the list was too small. When there are no slates, that happens: everyone has their own favorites, votes scatter.

Further down the ballot, Brandon Sanderson won again for Best Related Work, together with a bunch of friends. SAGA won Graphic Story, damn good comic, damn good choice. That radical leftist film THE AVENGERS won Long Form Drama, and something called GAME OF THRONES won Short Form. And for editor — hey, Stanley Schmidt finally won for ANALOG… but oh, dear, Patrick Nielsen Hayden won for Long Form Editor. Now we see the power of the SJWs: they won, oh, wow, ONE whole Hugo at LoneStarCon.

That’s just one year, though. Let’s turn the clock back further, to Chicon 7 in Chicago, and the nominees for the best work of 2011.

The Big One went to Jo Walton and AMONG OTHERS. My own nominee, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, finished last. In between you had EMBASSYTOWN by China Mieville (who is a vocal and passionate leftist, yes, but also a helluva powerful writer), LEVIATHAN WAKES by James S.A. Corey (a rousing space opera that any fan of the Good Old Stuff should love, soon to be a major TV series from the SyFy Channel), and DEADLINE by Mira Grant. Another zombie story, I seem to recall, same world as her other Best Novel nominees. Kij Johnson, Charlie Jane Anders, and Ken Liu won the Short Fiction Awards. Is there something about them or their stories that the Puppies object to? What could it be? Their literary style? Or…

Actually, looking at the other nominees, maybe THIS is the ballot that provoked the Proto-Puppies to sadness. Mira Grant has another nominee in novella. Mary Robinette Kowal was also up there, and MRK seems widely hated by the right for her work as SFWA Vice President ( a thankless job that I did once). Ken Liu won for Short Story but lost for novella. Catherynne Valente had a losing novella. And Short Story, seven hells, look at that ballot: beside Liu there is E. Lily Yu, the despised John Scalzi, Nancy Fulda , and… oh, look, Mike Resnick, however did the liberal cabal ever let HIM sneak in?

Novelette is pretty interesting too. Charlie Jane Anders won out over Paul Cornell, the affable Brit, Geoff Ryman, the affable Canadian, Rachel Swirsky (author, a few years later, of that dinosaur story that has all the Puppy Panties in a twist), and… “Ray of Light,” by Brad R. Torgersen, from ANALOG.

Condolences, Brad. You are a Hugo Loser. But hey, congratulations. You are a Hugo Loser. It’s an exclusive club. We get together annually, clank our beers together, and chant, “It’s an honor just to be nominated” in unison. Were you at the con? Did I give you a ribbon? If not, I’ll be sure you get one, should we ever met. Wear it proudly. The rest of us do. If that list I linked to is right, I’ve lost fifteen. When you lose, the fannish tradition is to congratulate the winner and shake their hand, then go to our Hugo Loser Party to get drunk and bitter. When I lose, my friends all tell me I’ve been robbed. Makes me feel better. Even when I know it isn’t true.

Looking further down the Chicon ballot, we come to the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Not a Hugo. E. Lily Yu was the winner. She finished ahead of Karen Lord, Stina Leicht, Mur Lafferty, and… ah… Brad R. Torgersen again. Sorry, Brad. Two losses in one night, that’s hard to take. But it’s an honor too. Very few writers have ever been nominated for a Campbell and a Hugo in the same year. Actually, you may be the first. Being a Campbell Award loser does not officially qualify one for the Hugo Losers Club, but we usually let them in anyway. FWIW, I lost the very first Campbell Award, in 1973 at Torcon II. I was a nominee, but never really a contender, to tell the truth. Jerry Pournelle won that first Campbell, defeating George Alec Effinger so narrowly that the con gave him a special runner-up plaque, the first and last time that was ever done. I was way back behind both, so no plaques for me. But I did lose two Hugos in a single night once, in 1976 in Kansas City, Big Mac. Lost one to Larry Niven, and one to Roger Zelazny. The next night, Gardner Dozois and I founded the Hugo Losers Club, and held the first Hugo Losers Party in my room.

Onward and backward, though. Let’s go back to Renovation. Reno, Nevada, 2011. Best work of 2010. Connie Willis wins the Big One for BLACKOUT/ ALL CLEAR. The other nominees were Mira Grant (for FEED, the first of her zombie cycle, I believe), Lois McMaster Bujold, N.K. Jemison with THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, and THE DERVISH HOUSE by the amazing Ian McDonald.

I know what Vox Day thinks of Jemison, since I read his poisonous screed. (He is a Rabid Puppy, I know, not a Sad one, and I would hope most SPs would disavow his bile, regardless of their literary preferences or political affiliations). Vox attacked the GOH speech she gave at an Australian convention… but since the Sad Puppies here have stated often that they only care about the work, not the race or the views of the writer, surely there could not have been any objections to THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS… or the Bujold, or the McDonald.

The novella award went to Ted Chiang… a writer of literary SF, we may agree, but one of the most powerful to enter our field in many years. There’s a reason Chiang wins every time he is nominated for a award. He’s bloody good. Novelette, though… that went to Alan Steele for “The Emperor of Mars,” a classic retro-SF story that he actually wrote for OLD MARS, the anthology Gardner and I were putting together. When we were unable to place the project, however, Alan sold the story to ASIMOV’S, and it brought him home a rocket. Classic old style SF in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I will skip over the rest of Reno… except for the John W. Campbell Award. The fans chose Lev Grossman as the Best New Writer, over Lauren Beukes, Saladin Ahmed, Dan Wells… and Larry Correia. This, it seems to me, was BEFORE he started his first Puppies campaign. Dan Wells was also a Sad Puppy at one time… though this year he asked not to be part of the slate.

I have read Correia’s blog, and I know he says that he was treated very badly at the Reno worldcon, attacked for his views, denounced as a racist and homophobe. I was at Reno myself, but I don’t recall meeting him, so I don’t know the details of any of that. It shocks me to hear it, because the fandom I know has always been warm and welcoming to people of all political views. We are there to party and flirt and celebrate SF, after all. I regret any personal attacks or abuse that Correia may have suffered.

I will say, though, that there is no dishonor in losing to a writer as gifted as Lev Grossman, and many many terrific writers have lost the Campbell Award over the decades, starting with me. And it is an INCREDIBLE honor just to be nominated. Think about it. We have hundreds of new writers entering our field every year, all of them dreaming of careers, all of them fighting for recognition, trying to build their brand… and a few, maybe, lusting for rockets. Out of all those people, the fans nominated FIVE (sometimes six) for the Campbell.

There were no Sad Puppies when Larry Correia was nominated for the Campbell, when Brad Torgersen was nominated for the Campbell, when Torgersen was nominated for his first Hugo. (Subsequent noms, yes, may have resulted from Puppy campaigns). That was the traditional Hugo electorate putting you on the ballot… you, and a lot of other conservative writers, religious writers, white male writers, and purveyors of space opera, military SF, and Good Old Stuff.

There was never any need for Sad Puppies to “take back” the Hugos. The feminists, minorities, literary cliques, and Social Justice Warriors never took them in the first place. That’s a myth, as the actual facts I have cited here prove conclusively.

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