A democracy is only as good as its numbers

Michael Rapoport — from the Wall Street Journal — contacted me to ask me if I would be willing to offer any immediate thoughts on the results of the 2015 Hugo awards, which are being given out in Spokane tomorrow. Because I don’t know how much of anything I say to the media will ever actually make it to print, I wanted to put here what I essentially told Michael:

I am 10 hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast. I am also working 12-hour afternoon-through-evening duty shifts. the Hugos will be announced when I am off-duty, and asleep in my trailer. I won’t know the results until long after the fact.

Because people will be gloating and/or gnashing their teeth (alternately) I’ve not been much inclined to make any after-the-fact statements. My “job” with this thing, finished the minute the door shut on the voting.

But I want to re-emphasize something I told WIRED magazine’s Amy Wallace: it doesn’t necessarily matter who wins or loses a Hugo award this year, as much as it matters that participation keeps increasing.

This year there were a record number of memberships, and a record number of ballots cast. This is very, very good. A democracy (any democracy) is only as worthwhile as those who keep their end up by actively participating. Past Hugo voting has tended to be remarkably anemic. Sad Puppies has changed this significantly — for two years running. If the participation (beyond 2015) declines, the Hugos are diminished. If participation grows, the Hugos mean more. That’s the real bottom line (in my book) and it goes way beyond which “side” can construct victory narratives.

So, that’s my statement.

Speaking personally, I am definitely rooting for people to take home trophies. Especially some of my professional associates who have labored long and hard in this industry for many, many years, and who finally got their shot at the award because more fans decided to put their money where their mouths were. I can’t guarantee any of those pros will win. But then, that’s been part of what makes this year so interesting: all bets are off. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. It’s a huge point of speculation.

Not knowing what will happen, is also very healthy in a democracy. It encourages people to keep having their say, because they believe their voices will count.

I’d like to think this will become a feature of the Hugos — the unknown! — for years to come.

Sheepdog staring at the horizon

At this point, there will never be anything like a final comment on Sad Puppies 3. I myself have been talking less and less about it, as my block of overseas time nears. Once I am in the Middle East, I may not address the Sad Puppies issue again, until the Hugo voting is closed, and the actual results have been made known in August. With the voter packets now being reviewed, people are reading, and making up their minds. Which is ultimately the only thing that matters for this season anyway. But this hasn’t stopped the rest of the internet from chattering about the Hugos — whether it’s pro-Puppy chatter, anti-Puppy chatter, or that special kind of vindictive ad hominem commentary I like to call Puppy-kicker chatter.

Some of the anti-Puppy discussion has been reasoned, and makes its points without resorting to ad hominem language.

Most of the Puppy-kicker discussion focuses on how Larry Correia, Brad R. Torgersen, John C. Wright, et al., are horrible writers, horrible human beings, and deserve to die in a fire for their endless crimes against all that is good and decent in the universe.

A few Puppy-kickers remain convinced that Sad Puppies 3 was nothing but racist, sexist, homophobic cis-straight old white men fighting the future. Despite all actual evidence to the contrary. Which (to my mind) simply speaks to the fact that many armchair activists are far too invested in narratives to actually take the time to discover that Sad Puppies 3 had lots of women, it also had minorities, and didn’t give a hoot what the authors looked like, what was between their legs, or who the authors preferred going to bed with.

But then, armchair activists are forever inventing bogeymen to battle. They are forever winning, the future is forever theirs, but the present is forever besieged with (insert bad people here) so we have to FIGHT and PROTEST and NEVER GIVE UP, because having actual measurable objectives and quantifiable goals — the vast bulk of which have been reached or surpassed already — might mean you have to find a new line of work. And for armchair activists, that’s unthinkable.

So, today, Sad Puppies are the ultimate evil. Tomorrow, Joss Whedon is the ultimate evil. Or George R. R. Martin is the ultimate evil. Or Martin’s producers, at least, for the HBO rendition of Game of Thrones. I forget, who are the armchair activists attacking this week? There should be some kind of memo circulated, or something:

AT DAWN, WE TWITTER-BOMB J.J. ABRAMS FOR THE RACIST, SEXIST, CISNORMATIVE HELL-HOLE THAT WILL BE STAR WARS VII.

It might be funny, except for the fact that the whole reason I am going overseas in the first place, is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Most folks know them as ISIS, though the Arabic and Islamic nations partnering with NATO and other countries to fight ISIS, call those guys DAESH, which is derogatory towards ISIS/ISIL. DAESH are the charming folks who throw gay men to their deaths, from rooftops. And chop the heads off of innocent women and children.

That stuff is happening right now, in the real world.

But apparently, going after a writer or a director — for movies and TV shows — is the best way armchair activists can spend their time?

No, I don’t get it either. I don’t think I ever will.

For God’s sake, if you’re going to have a cause, shut your flapping (digital) mouths and put your bodies where your talk is. Get involved. Do something measurable. Concrete. Pursuing a quantifiable objective. Maybe even stick your necks out, and take a real personal risk? And I don’t mean tweeting fake threats to yourself, to gin up publicity and sympathy. I mean actually putting your body on the line for what you claim to think and feel. That’s why I joined the military in the first place, after 9/11/2001. I wasn’t satisfied being just some guy who gets pissed off on the internet. I took Roosevelt’s adage — about the man in the arena — seriously.

As my friend and author (and Sad Puppy critic) Eric Flint recently noted, he’s put his body on the line for what he believes. Other people spew a lot of hot air about being “warriors” for social justice. Eric’s a man who can actually claim that title, and be taken seriously; by allies and opponents alike.

So you will pardon me if I can’t spare much serious thought for those who think being some guy who gets pissed off on the internet, is somehow going to make a difference — a real, lasting, actual difference.

Which takes me back to a point Larry Correia and I have both made, about the Hugo awards: loads of people loved to complain about how the Hugos suck, and almost nobody was doing anything to make an impact. I say “almost” because there were interested parties working hard to effect the kind of change they wanted — Seannan McGuire didn’t get five Hugo nominations in a single year on accident — they just didn’t conduct their operations in broad daylight, nor on a scale to compare with Sad Puppies.

Which takes me back to a comment Michael Z. Williamson once made: we’re bad because we’re competent?

Well, whatever people have against Sad Puppies 3 — legit, or imaginary — it’s clear that the various narratives will continue without my input. I can only restate the obvious, in the hope that it sticks with people who have not decided to be dead-set against us. We (Sad Puppies Inc.) threatened nothing, demanded nothing, and closed no doors in any faces. We threw the tent flaps wide and beckoned to anyone and everyone: come on in, join the fun!

The Puppy-kickers have threatened and demanded a great deal. They most certainly do not want the “wrong” fans being allowed to participate in “their” (the Puppy-kickers’) award.

Sad Puppies 3 was a thoroughly transparent operation. We hid nothing. Concealed no ulterior motives. We said what we wanted to do, we invited people to help, and with that help, we did it. We transformed the Hugo landscape — at least for one season — and we got the spec fiction world talking about the Hugos like never before. In both good, and bad ways. How this all shakes out in coming years, remains to be seen. There are individuals — again, Puppy-kickers — who will mobilize to install new Worldcon rules that prevent the “wrong” kinds of people, from voting on the award. Either by eliminating the nomination and voting rights of supporting members, or by driving up the cost of attending membership, or both. Or perhaps they will simply alter the assembly and selection process of the final ballot proper? No more crazy democracy. A juried system. Who knows?

I do know that if Worldcon actually boasted even a third of the attendance of an average Comic Con — say, 25,000 people — almost no slate or push or bloc of any sort, could have the same effect such efforts have had in the past. Which is, again, a goal of Sad Puppies: to bring in more voices, more votes, more fans. We never turned our cold, wet noses up at anybody. We happily wagged our tails for any living soul who cared to participate. Because we (Puppies Inc.) believe participation was the overriding, validating factor in the extant process.

Others will doubtless disagree — and some of them are long-time beneficiaries of “small” participation which kept the voting pool puny, thereby making it easier for the quiet blocs to exert influence.

To wit: “I don’t know why people think the Hugos are broken, I get nominated and I win all the time!”

You could probably write a doctoral thesis about the privilege contained in that sentiment, eh?

So, I stare to the horizon. Aware of the fact that there won’t be any last words. Just maundering. My first month of active duty is ended. I’ve got a lot of work still ahead of me — both military work, and writing more books for Baen; which have been contracted. I won’t have the luxury of being able to keep my finger on the pulse of this whole ongoing argument. Nor will I try. Others — pro, con, neutral — will say most of what needs to be said, and they will say it far better than I could.

For this year, I hope every category sees a human being called to the podium, to receive a Hugo award. Because I still think Science Fiction is the best, most imaginative game in town. It’s a remarkable and marvelous field. That’s why it’s been worth getting involved — and not just talking.

Because — love us or hate us — the Sad Puppies give a damn.

Fisking the broken narrative

Someone forwarded me a copy of Kevin J. Maroney’s editorial from the April New York Review of Science Fiction. I don’t normally read Maroney’s column, and I don’t even normally read NYRoSF, but some of Maroney’s commentary screams BROKEN NARRATIVE at such a high decibel level, I thought it might be worth it to examine some of that commentary in close detail. The quoted blocks in italics are Maroney, while the standard text blocks are my own.

I don’t know that I have anything particular to add to the specific discussion except perhaps to bemoan the near-total destruction of the short fiction categories this year.

Kary English “destroyed” the short fiction category? Ed Lerner too? Michael F. Flynn? John C. Wright? What and whom, pray tell, would Kevin have preferred on the final ballot? In the short fiction categories? That’s a question worth asking. Has Kevin even read any of the works? The first duty of all reviewers with integrity, is to not judge anything sight-unseen. So I am honestly curious. Did Kevin read all of the short works in the short fic categories, before employing phraseology like “destroyed” in his editorial?

Okay, there’s one point I feel I have to hammer on. The entire Puppy movement, rhetorically, is based on the idea that the science fiction enterprise has changed tremendously and not for the better, since the fabled Golden Age when all of the Puppies were young.

The sentence above alerts me to the fact that Kevin is not aware that each iteration of Sad Puppies has taken on a different flavor. Sad Puppies 3 especially, since it’s a different person carrying the guidon this year. At a basic level, Sad Puppies 3 can be accurately described as operational push-back against a small pool of taste-makers getting to decide for all of Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F) what’s worthy of recognition with SF/F’s self-labeled “most prestigious award.” It wasn’t about dialing the field back to the Golden Age as much as it was about using the extant democratic process to broaden the extent of the Hugo’s coverage; to include Hugo-worthy works (and authors, and editors, and artists) who’d ordinarily fall into the blind spots. And let’s be clear: the Hugo selection process in 2015 does have blind spots. Such as the consistent bias against tie-in novels and tie-in novel authors; for all definitions of “tie-in” which include, “Books based on universes originating from sources other than literary.” Ergo, games, movies, television, etc.

The head Sad Puppy himself, Brad Torgersen, has taken to referring to his enemies as CHORFS, “Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary, Fanatics.” So, yes, the person who is bravely positioning himself as the force that will stop the people who want to change things believes that his opponents are “reactionaries.” This is, apparently, someone whose understanding of words is limited to “what sounds like an insult?”

Here again, I think Kevin has not examined the sequence of events in close detail. CHORF became a necessity once it became clear that Teresa Nielsen-Hayden (among others) was teeing up the outrage machine, in the week before the release of the Hugo final ballot in April. Why a new acronym? Because the SMOFs supporting Sad Puppies didn’t need to be lumped in with Teresa and the other SP3 detractors who were actively building their narrative of affront and apoplexy long before the Hugo final ballot went public. If Kevin dislikes insults, he should come sit in my chair for a month, and get called every name in the book. All for inviting people to the democracy — because inviting people to the democracy is apparently the worst sin any SF/F author can commit?

Leading to a broader topic, I’ll point out that the Best Graphic Story category consists of four superb non-Puppy finalists. I’ve also been told the Fan Artist category is a good selection of candidates, though I’m not personally qualified to judge them. These categories mostly escaped unscathed because the slates listed only one Graphic Story nominee and no Fan Artist nominees, apparently because the Puppies didn’t deem them worthy of attention.

Ah, so Kevin’s litmus seems clear: if it was part of Sad Puppies 3, it’s bad. Everything not part of Sad Puppies 3, is superb. Again, sight-unseen? If so, that’s damned shabby of you, Kevin. And you should know better.

That’s how this works now. There is a small community of people online who are dedicated to inflicting damage on targets of opportunity.

Yes, and some of their better-known exemplars are people such as Arthur Chu, who tried to cram Sad Puppies 3 (square peg) into GamerGate (round hole) and when it wouldn’t fit, he kept pounding anyway; to include labeling me a racist — me, the guy who’ll be interracially married 22 years this year. In this particular instance, Kevin is looking at the gun through the wrong end of the barrel.

This group, which I think of as Panzergroup Asshole, is reactionary, virulently anti-woman, and racist whenever it suits them.

Well, again, I have to wonder: which end of the gun is Kevin looking at? I think some of the commentary of people like Chu, and others, has definitely been virulent. Or if Kevin is referring to Sad Puppies 3, I would like to see Kevin qualify the statement. With specific quotes. Kevin’s opinion is 100% fueled by the broken narrative: everything and everyone he doesn’t like (about Sad Puppies 3) is racist and sexist, because (mumble, mumble) and therefore (reasons, reasons) and because Kevin isn’t friends with anyone who disagrees with him, it’s an open-and-shut case.

Their tactics include online harrassment in a variety of forms, identity theft, death threats, exposure private information, SWATting , and whatever else they can do without actually leaving their chairs.

To repeat myself in triplicate: which end of the gun is Kevin looking at? Nobody on Sad Puppies 3 has been harassing anyone; though some of the people on Sad Puppies 3 — and myself and Larry Correia in particular — have been harassed a great deal. Maybe I should uncork my little screenshot store of all the nasty, petulant, histrionic, mean-spirited, false, slanderous, and downright disgusting things which have been said against Sad Puppies 3, the contents of the slate, myself, Larry Correia, and many others? Kevin’s right, about people being jerks. I just don’t think he realizes (based on the above) who the actual jerks have been.

GamerGate is just one instance of PA, a cadre of PA wrapped in a protective layer of the clueless and the easily duped. The ideas are dumb; the threats are real and terrifying. And if there is one lesson that Panzergroup Asshole wants to convey, it is to live in terror at the possibility of attracting the attention of Panzergroup Asshole.

Okay, my knowledge of GamerGate is limited, because I am not a gamer in the way that people (in this decade at least) identify as gamers. Most of my video games I like, are all old. And I don’t put much time into them these days, because whatever time I don’t spend doing military duty or my civilian job or family stuff or church stuff, is dedicated to writing books and stories for publishers like Baen, Analog magazine, and so forth. But even I can tell that Kevin’s image (in his mind) of what GamerGate is, is so one-dimensional, that it’s almost not worth considering. Kevin is saying “GamerGate!” the way he might say “Klu Klux Klan!” and it’s because (again) there’s nobody in his life (I infer from the nature of his editorial) to disagree with him, or give him a fuller picture. GamerGate (at this point) is so big, complex, convoluted, and replete with various “sides” that to simply spew “GamerGate!” and think that’s the end of it . . . demonstrates no depth of knowledge on the issue.

They are terrorists — they want people, especially women, to be so afraid of drawing attention that they just sit silently.

Golly, you mean like one of Arthur Chu’s minions, who tweeted a fake bomb threat against an establishment where people were hanging out to talk about GamerGate and Sad Puppies 3? Like harassing the establishment’s proprietor with asinine text messages all day long? Now, I am military, so to me a “terrorist” is someone like the Tsarnaev Bros. Guys who literally kill people. I avoid dumbing down “terrorist” because there are literal killers, and then there are people who just like being dicks on the internet.

And when it comes to being dicks on the internet, I think the anti-SP3 (and anti-GamerGate) sides (fuzzy, diffuse, partially overlapping Venn circles) win it going away. Why? Because they believe that being self-righteous flaming rage nozzles (of tolerance!) somehow gets them off the hook for having to behave like rational, adult human beings. Zealotry — even well-intended — has a history of going off the rails. So let’s be totally clear about the nature of the actual problem here. Especially when Sad Puppies 3 was wholly above-board, demanded nothing, threatened nothing, and played clean. We invited people to the democracy. The end. All else is merely rhetorical masturbation.

The Puppies deliberately sought the attention of GamerGate. They gathered monsters around themselves and said, “Here is a target which you should attack, because it does not give enough honor to the right kind of people.” And they attacked.

Again, GamerGate (as a label) encompasses so many different people, parties, sides, etc., that I can only speak about the folks who’ve contacted myself, Michael Z. Williamson, Sarah A. Hoyt, etc. That would be the Honey Badger Brigade. Who were spendidly nice to us (on the podcast) and who were all very intelligent, thoughtful, flesh-and-blood human beings who simply wanted to be able to have fun and enjoy what they want to enjoy, without having their recreation politicized by zealots who seem obsessed with “wrongfans” having “wrongfun” according to (mumble mumble crackpot academic theory mumble mumble activist jargon axe-grinding mumble mumble.) The Honey Badgers weren’t monsters. They were like us: tired of being told we’re bad, simply because we won’t fall into line with the doctrine and the ideology being pushed by the zealots.

The Puppies have a number of advantages in their fight. It is easier to attack a broad target than to defend it at every point.

Hey Kevin, is that why you seem to think GamerGate and Sad Puppies 3 are not only indistinguishable, but whole-cloth terrible? Down to the last man and woman? Because you think it’s wrong to attack broad targets?

Much of the society works on assumptions of commity and reciprocity that the Puppies simply eschew. They don’t care what damage they cause as long as their ears are filled with their own cheers.

Yes, which is why (if you go to the comments section of any of the well-attended anti-Puppy blogs) there is such an echo chamber (cough, excuse me) community of diverse (cough, monocultural) thinkers! Because the only people cheering their own, are the Sad Puppies. Or are we GamerGaters? At this point I’ve had “GamerGate!” spewed at me so often, I think I should just print up a copy of the Vivian James artwork (wherein she’s holding a sad puppy) and say, “Fine, fuck you. If I have to choose the Honey Badgers, vs. some self-righteous zealots who don’t even know what they’re talking about, I choose the Honey Badgers 20 times out of 20.”

And even if it is impossible for them to “win” — whatever that might mean — they can still cause a lot of damage even while losing every battle. If the Hugo Awards are left a smoking ruin in their wake, what’s it to them?

The only real way I see the Hugos being a “smoking ruin” is if the CHORFs fulfill their stated pledge to bork the 2015 awards by placing “NO AWARD” at the top of every category; thus no awards will be given. This will be an entirely self-inflicted wound (by the so-called devotees and cherishers of the Hugo) because clearly you have to destroy the village, to save the village. I mean, that’s just good common sense. If you love a thing and think it’s awesome, you absolutely must obliterate it — to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Because this is what open minds and open hearts do. They destroy something they claim to love, so that something they claim to love can be kept pure. Because the “wrong” people must never be allowed to have it the “wrong” way.

If there is any other way to leave the Hugos a “smoking ruin” this year, I haven’t thought of it yet.

This is not to counsel despair. But we need to be aware that the battle against the arrayed forces of assholery will, at times, be unpleasant to watch and wearying to fight. But the fight is genuinely important, and it won’t win itself.

—Kevin J. Maroney
speaking for himself

Thanks for the pep talk, Kevin! I agree with you wholeheartedly! The Forces of Assholery have been trick-or-treating at my virtual doorstep for 45 days and counting. They’ve smeared me, smeared my family, smeared my friends, and smeared Sad Puppies 3. Again, clearly the way the Forces of Assholery save the thing they love and cherish, is to be complete pricks to whoever they feel like, whenever they feel like, badger and threaten and cajole and shun and shame, all that good old fashioned 12th century village stuff. Torches and pitch forks! Tie them to the stake! Burn them! Infidels!

Or maybe “your” side needs to just settle down and vote on the ballot like normal?

That’s what the rest of us adults do — even when we aren’t thrilled with what’s on the ballot.

And when we decided to actively promote things we liked more, we did it 100% clean and for the public eye.

Again, did you even read the short fiction categories, before editorializing?

Or are you so in love with the broken narrative, that you can’t step beyond that particular sandbox, and look at the bigger picture?

Musings, not necessarily sorted

I’ve noticed that some people (who were opposed to the Sad Puppies effort) are actually reading the contents of the Hugo final ballot, and are shocked to discover that a) some of the work really is Hugo-worthy, and b) none of it is the product of bigoted, evil, white, hateful male minds.

Golly, I am pretty sure the point of Sad Puppies 3 was to make the final ballot more inclusive, not less. Didn’t we say that? I’m pretty sure we said that. More, not less. Big tent, not small tent. Nobody can tell anybody they don’t belong. Isn’t that what I personally have been banging my pot about for years now, even before Sad Puppies came along?

Oh, SP3 pointedly criticized affirmative action — which makes demographics paramount over content and quality — but then we’re allowed to criticize tendencies (and political policies) which make what a person looks like, or what a person has between his legs, or who that person likes to sleep with, more important than that person’s skill, talent, drive, integrity, and work ethic. I guess I am old fashioned in that I still take Dr. Martin Luther King’s words to heart, regarding content of character. They are timeless words. Because King clearly understood that for any group to rise above the obstacles placed before it, everything boils down to the unique dignity and quality of the individual.

And that’s what the Hugo award is supposed to be about, right? Isn’t that what the purists have been so concerned with, these past six weeks?

Now, nothing SP3 actually said or did stopped the clownish bum rush (at the beginning of April) to paint everyone and everything attached to Sad Puppies 3, like we were all KKK, Westboro Baptists, and Hitler, rolled into one demonic entity. But then, that specific angle of falsehood said far more about a particular crop of critics, than it did about SP3. Those people knew they were spreading a lie, and they did it deliberately, and they didn’t care. Even when the lie was shown to be a lie, for all the world to see.

I am glad there are readers who are willing to let the works on the ballot do the talking, as opposed to a stupid narrative.

And let’s be clear: the narrative is stupid. That Sad Puppies 3 is sexist, racist, etc. It was stupid when it was concocted. It remains stupid. It was stupid the second Entertainment Weekly stepped on its own tongue, after being spoon-fed an uproariously amateurish and error-festooned hit piece, by parties who have no regard for facts, and who were eager to smear Sad Puppies 3 and everyone associated with it. Those individuals involved in the concoction and dissemination of the narrative are utterly without scruples, and also without spine, in my opinion. But then, cowardice is something I’ve noticed is in no short supply in the field of literary SF/F these days. Just look at how we (in the field) run around in a tizzy trying to be “safe” from ourselves.

Speaking of people demanding “safety,” it’s occurred to me many times lately that the so-called Greatest Generation — born in the Depression, coming of age by defeating Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, standing off with the Stalinist Soviet Union, and putting men on the Moon — wasn’t fantastically concerned with being “safe” in the way the word is used today. In fact, no great and memorable thing was ever accomplished by any civilization that put “safe” at the top of its priority list. Slavery was not ended by men who wanted to be “safe” and neither was Jim Crow. Boat people fleeing communist Vietnam or Cuba did not put “safe” ahead of their desire to be free. It seems to me that the more we think we can trade off liberty, for security, the more Ben Franklin will be proven right: we’ll get neither. So, be “safe” if you feel like it. Just don’t try to be taken seriously; as a grownup. Being a grownup is about principles. And risk. And the weighing of the two. Err too far on the side of avoiding risk, and you will discover that the principle has been forfeited.

On that note, Larry Correia and I both recently sent some signed contracts back to Baen; for our next books. A few of our critics (of SP3) made a lot of dire noise to the effect of, “You’ll never work in this town again!” I think it’s safe to say that Larry and I are thankful to be working with a publisher who correctly understands the balance — principle, vs. risk. As always, it’s a pleasure to be publishing with a company that truly does (in the words of bestseller John Ringo) understand how to find and print a rip-roaring good story. Because that’s what this whole thing is about in the first place. That’s what Science Fiction & Fantasy was always about: the rip-roaring good story. For all definitions of “good” that include, “Keep the audience coming back for more.” Notice I did not say, “Keep the critics happy,” nor did I say, “Please the aesthetes who sit on their thrones of taste-making.”

To repeat myself: bold tales, told boldly. That’s the mission.

Not that I expect this sentiment to be shared by individuals who’ve made it their job to kick out the “wrong” fans for having the “wrong” kind of fun while enjoying the “wrong” sorts of SF/F.

Right now there are two hazy movements working hard to change the Hugo award. They overlap to a certain extent, but their net effect might be the same. The first wants to vote “NO AWARD” on everything that made the 2015 Hugo final ballot the “wrong” way, and the second wants to change the voting rules (for the future) so that the “wrong” people aren’t allowed to participate in the creation of the final ballot, much less vote on the award proper. For these two groups, their final destination may be the submerging of the Hugo and Worldcon altogether — because you can’t run a big tent while actively erecting barriers to entry and participation. People will go elsewhere. Devote time and money to other things. That’s already been true for decades. If the reaction (of Worldcon, to having the actual world come into the tent) is to pitch a fit and kick people to the curb, then I think it’s a prime example of the old adage: be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

Worldcon’s relevance — indeed, the relevance of the Hugos — was already tenuous. Sad Puppies has been an attempt to change that. Not everybody thinks it’s been a change in the “right” way. A lot of people are clearly wrapped up in Worldcon being a specific kind of place for a specific sort of person who likes a specific range of things produced by a specific group of individuals. Small tent is, as small tent does.

It’s an art argument. It’s a taste argument. It’s a political argument. And it’s a culture argument.

Sad Puppies 3 looked at the argument and said, “Goose, it’s time to buzz the tower.”

And again, for a field that endlessly writes stories about mavericks who cut against the grain, break the rules, go against tradition, defy authority, push against the status quo, etc., it’s kind of amusing to see so much hand-wringing and apoplexy when someone actually comes along and shakes things up. Especially when the shake-up was conducted 100% in the open, democratically, using a democratic process. There was nothing secret being done. Nothing underhanded. No hoodwinking was engaged in. All of it was above-board. So that the chief source of outrage — when you cut down through all the miles of rhetorical bullshit — seems to be, Sad Puppies 3 is terrible because Sad Puppies 3 was effective.

I think George R. R. Martin is right: if you want to change things in a democracy, you get out the vote. Sad Puppies 3 got out the vote. So much so, we’ve got complainers crying about how it was the “wrong” voters with the “wrong” intentions, etc. Okay, whatever. In a field that produces thousands of books every year, and tens of thousands of stories, how the heck does an author or an artist get any traction with an award? Simple: put the word out, or have buddies and fans who put the word out for you. Up until now, the “right” people were putting the word out, and then Sad Puppies comes, and we’re accused of being the “wrong” people who are putting the word out? Who gets to decide when “putting the word out” is right, or wrong?

Better yet, who gets to decide who the “wrong” and “right” voters are?

Because I can tell you — based on mail — that every time a snob or a purist or an ideological opponent of Sad Puppies 3 has put his or her foot down, about the “wrong” people coming to the table, it’s merely increased interest and activity on the Sad Puppies side. There is a finite number of individuals who want to keep Worldcon and the Hugo “unsullied” by the proles. The number of proles is endless, and the proles have money, and time, and the willingness to put their hand in. Now, perhaps, more than ever before in Worldcon history.

And oh yes, for those who are permanently bent about Vox Day, here’s a bit of news for you, from someone at Abyss & Apex who interviewed the Deviantart artist who donated the Sad Puppies 3 logo:

Q. How did you come up with the concept for the Sad Puppies 3 logo?

A. It was my idea. I’m a friend of a friend of Brad (Torgersen) and I did it on a whim, and donated it. I liked what Sad Puppies stood for: good stories.

Q. So it was not made to order? Not paid for?

A. No, I did it as a volunteer. For free.

Q. Were the three puppy astronauts your idea?

A. You mean the puppies on the logo named Frank, Isaac and Ray? I was thinking of Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. I came up with that. They all wrote good stories, so I thought they were good representatives for Sad Puppies.

Q. Is the logo trademarked?

A. I didn’t trademark it; maybe Brad Torgersen did, but not me.

Q. I notice that the Sad Puppies 3 logo is on display on your site at Deviant Art but the Rabid Puppies logo was not. Did you draw that one, too?

A. Yeah. (pause) With all the controversy, I wish I hadn’t.

Q. You mean about Vox Day?

A. Yeah.

Q. How did you come to draw it?

A. After the Sad Puppies 3 list came out, Vox Day contacted me. Wanted a rush job for a similar logo to Sad Puppies, for Rabid Puppies. Wanted it in 48 hours.

Q. Were you paid for this one?

A. Yeah, he paid.

Again, the pushing of narratives can backfire when the facts come out. I thought the artist did a smashing job on the SP3 logo, and I think the furor over logos (Sad, vs. Rabid) is one of the silliest red herrings in this entire thing. It’s an attempt to paint all Sad Puppies enthusiasts with the Vox Day brush. Something I know some of the Sad Puppies enthusiasts have not appreciated, and it’s certainly not won very many hearts and minds (from the SP side, to the anti-SP side) precisely because this is such an unfair red herring. Leave the red herring arguments at the door. They’re simply side-stepping the core issue.

Because ultimately this isn’t even about Sad Puppies, or what we said, or did not say, or what we did, or did not do.

This is about the Hugo award, and Worldcon, and decades of seeping stagnation, and the ossification of the mindset of the so-called “keepers” of the field’s self-proclaimed “most prestigious award.” An award that seems to too often deliberately avoid what’s actually happening in the marketplace, has become the personal toy of a self-selected crop of individuals who are happy to play at being large fish in small fishbowls, and does itself and its legacy a disservice by catering to taste-makers and taste-shapers. Both for reasons related to art, and for reasons related to politics. As I said above, the number of people in this group is finite. The actual fans (small f) are legion.

Sad Puppies 3 is an effort to bring fans (small f) to the table. No matter how much people have bashed it, lied about it, or tried to paint it as something it’s not, Sad Puppies 3 is “open source” and egalitarian. We asked for suggestions in the run-up to the formation of the slate, and we encouraged everyone to buy, read, and participate with an open mind. No expectations. No tests. No rules. We demanded nothing. We threatened nothing.

Certain histrionic people (among SP3’s opponents) have demanded and threatened a great deal.

I am content knowing SP3 never had to badger anybody, to get them to climb aboard. Badgering is for the small tent. SP3 is big tent. We cranked the radio-full blast, put out the ice chests with drinks and food, and said, “Come to the party! Everybody is welcome!”

Keyboard rage

I’m on orders for the next (more or less) year. My ability to pay attention to and track what’s going on in social media is affected accordingly. Unless someone specifically tells me what’s going on, I may not be aware. And even if I am aware, I may not have the time or energy for a proper response. So I hope people can forgive me if I am a day late and a dollar short.

Today, I am told Myke Cole is on about me. Since Myke doesn’t really know me from Adam, I have to shrug and take whatever he said with a grain of salt. But then, most people who’ve been on about me lately — because of Sad Puppies 3 — don’t know me, either. I may take it personally if a friend, a family member, or a respected senior I admire, has hard words for me. But total strangers spewing hard words?

Well, total strangers may have an opportunity to reconsider at a later point. Especially if they meet me face-to-face.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I saw today that Joss Whedon deleted his twitter account because he was being piled-upon for something. And this comes on the heels of Arthur Chu text-harassing an eating establishment over the weekend. Followed by a bomb threat (unfounded) to said eating establishment. It remains to be seen if Chu himself tweeted the threat, but I think much of this can be chalked up to keyboard rage. That, and the fact that social media lets us all run around inside each others’ heads all day long. We keep being shocked and horrified by what we find there, apparently.

Who knew that half the world is made of monsters?

Only, it isn’t.

I try not to let keyboard rage take over my perception. I’ve been on-line (more or less) since 1991, and in that time I’ve seen just about the worst that social media has to offer. Right now we seem to be rapidly plunging into a period of extreme judgmentalism and self-righteousness, and it’s fueling some pretty toxic social media mob sessions. I’m at the point with it all, now, where I am just skimming over anything that seems rage-hatey — or otherwise filled with keyboard paroxysms. It’s similar to road rage, but with words.

When I think someone else on the highway is displaying road-ragey tendencies, I let up off the gas, drop back, and keep a healthy distance. Their issues need not become my issues.

And in the end, (s)he’s probably cool face-to-face. Road rage can be like that. Being behind the wheel flips some psychological switches that we (as a society enmeshed in each others’ lives like never before) don’t know how to handle yet.

Hopefully we learn.

Until then, things are bumpy.

Catching up with . . . Kary English

Hugo-nominated and Campbell award-nominated author Kary English has been making a remarkable splash in the field this year, both with appearances in Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge and also the very latest volume of Writers of the Future. I was very happy to be able to chat with Kary about her explosion onto the science fiction scene. As always, I’ve included image links in the body of the interview; so please click and support this very exciting, very talented writer!

Brad: You’re relatively “new” to traditional publishing, but you’ve put a few things on line via indie publishing. What’s your opinion, traditional vs. indie, and do you have any speculation on the future of the industry?

Kary: Both. Definitely both. I think it depends on the individual work. If I were writing romance novels or thrillers, I’d probably go all indie. For my shorts, I prefer to hit the magazine markets first, and my most successful self-published shorts are actually reprints that I released after the exclusivity period had ended. I’m currently working on a middle grade/ young adult crossover fantasy, and for that one, I’m going to try a few specialty houses first, then go indie if nobody bites. I think the YA/MG market still depends heavily on print, and on access to bookstores, so that’s what’s motivating me to go traditional for that age group.

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Brad: Your work caught the attention of Mike Resnick, when he was reading as a judge for the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers and Illustrator’s of the Future Contest. He went on to buy some of your work for Galaxy’s Edge magazine. What’s in been like to work with Mike as an editor?

Kary: Mike has been amazing to work with. He’s kind, encouraging, an incisive editor and he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know about the business end of writing. I would work with him again in a heartbeat.

Brad: Would you describe yourself as primarily a science fiction writer, or a fantasy writer? Or both? And why?

Kary: Am I allowed to repeat myself? Both. Definitely both. My science fiction leans hard, and my fantasy leans high. I’ve been told that’s an unusual combination, but when I stir the primordial muck inside my head, that’s what bubbles to the surface. For short fiction, most of my ideas tend to be science fiction. It’s different for novels, though. I’ve never had a novel idea that wasn’t fantasy, at least not yet.

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Brad: Are there favorite authors or mentors who have inspired you or helped you? How do you think they’ve influenced your work?

Kary: Oh, gosh. The list is long. I’m a firm believer that a writer cuts her teeth by reading, so C.S. Lewis, Piers Anthony, Roger Zelazny, Patricia McKillip, Anne McCaffrey, Stephen R. Donaldson, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Friedman, Melanie Rawn, Judith Tarr, Jim Butcher, Robin Hobb, and many, many more. Reading trains the ear and helps the writer develop her voice – even if she’s not writing yet.

For mentors, I’d have to cite Mike Resnick, Tracy Hickman, Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland. I am immensely grateful to all of them. Dave, in particular, has had an enormous influence on my writing. I’ve taken several of his workshops, and I’ll be taking his new Worldbuilding workshop this summer. Dave has taught me so much that I can’t even list it all. Suffice it to say that without Dave, I don’t think I’d be writing professionally.

Brad: What’s your project list look like for 2015 and 2016? Anything new and exciting planned, and which you can talk about?

Kary: There’s a lot on my plate at the moment. I’m collaborating on a multi-volume science fantasy series, and the first book should be out in late 2015, maybe early 2016. I’m under an NDA for that one, so that’s all I can say. I’m ghostwriting at least one other project, but I can’t say anything more than that. For my own work, I’m trying to finish my MG/YA fantasy crossover series, and when that’s done, I’ll be turning my Writers of the Future winner into a novel.

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Brad: Do you think (as one of the latest Writers of the Future winners) that the Contest helps new authors gain exposure and increase their credibility with editors?

Kary: Absolutely. Mike Resnick invited me to submit to Galaxy’s Edge because I’d done well in Writers of the Future, and recently an editor stopped me mid-pitch and said “You had me at ‘turning my Writers of the Future winner into a novel’. Send it as soon as it’s ready.” I can’t think of any other accomplishment that would make an editor request a manuscript from a new writer before he’d even heard what it was about.

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Brad: As a child or teenager, what were your science fiction or fantasy enthusiasms, either television, books, games, or movies?

Kary: Let’s see. I discovered anime in the form of Astro Boy and Speed Racer before I could read, and that led to Voltron and Battle of the Planets when I was in elementary school. Star Trek was another favorite, followed by Battlestar Galactica, the Lorne Greene version. I’d discovered fantasy by then, too, when I stumbled on The Hobbit in my elementary school library. I’d read The Chronicles of Narnia and the Prydain books, but somehow I’d lumped those in with the folk tales and fairy tales I’d been reading. I think The Hobbit was the first time I understood that fantasy was a genre of its own.

It took me longer to get into science fiction as a reader. For whatever reason, sci-fi was something I watched; not something I read. It was Anne McCaffrey who provided the bridge. I loved her dragon books so much that I read everything she wrote, including Crystal Singer, Decision at Doona and The Ship Who Sang. After that, I looked for science fiction when I went to libraries and bookstores just like I looked for fantasy.

I skipped Star Wars when it first came out. My mother wanted to go, but a neighborhood kid was having a pool party, and I chose the pool party. I saw it when it came out again later, either because it had won some Academy Awards or because they re-ran it before The Empire Strikes Back came out. Once I saw Empire, I was so hooked that I wrote my own sequel, longhand, in pencil, in a spiral notebook during class in junior high. Friends of mine who knew I was writing it begged me to share it, so we passed the pages to each other in the hallways. This was eighth grade, so I think I was around twelve or thirteen.

Brad: Tell us about your professional and educational background. How does it factor into your writing?

Kary: As an undergraduate, I double-majored in Anthropology and Philosophy, then I went to grad school for a master’s degree in Religious Studies. I focused on the sociology and psychology of religion, with a particular interest in conversion experiences. Later, I’d return to grad school for a Ph.D., but in the meantime, I took about a decade off to work as a reading specialist, curriculum developer and Special Ed. teacher. At the time, I thought the world needed a reading teacher more than it needed another college professor.

As a curriculum developer, I helped write a complete k-12 language arts curriculum and a suite of anti-bullying materials. Those products are now being used with hundreds of thousands of students all over the U.s. Deciding that my commitment to education had been sufficiently fulfilled, I returned to grad school for a doctorate in cognitive science of religion.

I loved it. Was there something hardwired in the brain that predisposed us, as a species, to believe in a divine presence and develop complex religious systems? (The answer is yes, by the way.) In addition to my studies, I coordinated grant-writing teams and helped organize an international science conference. Unfortunately, I was orphaned, which means that my advisor switched universities after I’d completed my field exams, and that meant it was too late for me to go, too. The loss of that one professor collapsed the entire program, leaving me stuck at ABD (all but dissertation).

So, what does one do with an academic background in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, cognitive science and religion? Well, it makes darned good foundation for creating believable characters, alien societies and rich, fictional cultures.

Why do it?

Over the past three weeks I’ve received many hundreds of communications — from authors, readers, fans, editors, artists, and even professionals and interested parties beyond the publishing world. The vast bulk of these items have been supportive. A few have been critical. Almost all of them have been constructive in one way or another. I’ve even been engaged in an over-the-transom debate with minor Star Trek writer alumnus David Gerrold, who has been doing his best Andrew Jorgensen to my Lawrence Garfield. Because this isn’t just about some award, it’s about how the field (of Science Fiction & Fantasy literature) regards itself; and how it proceeds into the future. Years of uncertainty — papered over by shouts of surety — have bred an undercurrent that is roiled, confusing, and difficult to parse plainly. Feelings are very close to the surface. Enough so that a democratic system exercised democratically (and returning the “wrong” answer) has resulted in an internal explosion that’s blown out all the windows and doors, and which now involves the wider world.

Good. I think it’s overdue. This whole thing. Even the tabloid slander and the fashioning of false narratives — something the opponents of Sad Puppies 3 have excelled at. All of this has forced people to sit up and pay attention again. It’s made the otherwise sleepy and predictable Hugo selection process mean something. Nobody’s nodding off at the wheel anymore. People are giving a damn.

But one neutral party asked me a good question today: Why do it, and risk your professional standing?

That’s a great question. I’ve asked myself similar questions every year I’ve been publishing in the field. Why? Why speak up, or try to make a point? Especially if it means getting backlash?

I think one of the big reasons why Sad Puppies 3 has brought out the sharp knives, is because everyone is feeling their belts tightening. The SF/F reading audience is going away. It’s been going away for over two decades. Year by year, the numbers tell the story. That’s not rhetoric. That’s the business bottom-line. And whether people want to admit it or not, the field of SF/F literature is a business. Lovingly tended by devout fans (back at the tail end of the pulp era, and up through the 1970s) some of whom went on to become publishers and editors who helped grow the enterprise into a bona fide money-maker (Judy-Lynn del Rey) which peaked at roughly the same time movies, television, and video games were elevating SF/F on a world-wide scale.

Since the turn of the century, though, SF/F has slowly been splitting from the audience it attracted — people who picked SF/F up from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. As with the Futurians — who all mostly agreed that SF/F ought to be a tool with political and social application — the 21st century mindset of two out of every three SF/F professionals has been to apply the literature to the question of real-world social and political concerns. Which in and of itself is not new. The field’s various authors and editors have always been doing this, to one degree or another. But they were doing it with respect for the readership’s expectations. Not in spite of those expectations.

In the words of Larry the Liquidator, the surest way to go broke, is to keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow, but sure.

Well, that’s the state of the SF/F literature field in 2015, whether you want to admit it or not.

And since I am an entrepreneur — all commercial writers are, when you get right down to it — I am not thrilled by what’s happening right now. Especially since so many of my colleagues are not only not concerned by what’s going on, they are happily cheering it. The further diminishing of the reader pool. The “refining out” of the “impurities” in the audience, so that we have a smallish, monocultural, properly progressive and thoroughly dead thing to work with. A closed circle. Conversing only amongst ourselves.

Dave Freer wrote a very apt piece about battlers — the little guys who are too stubborn, too obstinate, even too stupid to let their betters have the last word. When I look at my own history, I certainly identify with the battler mentality. Even my many characters in my books and stories tend to be battlers. I don’t write about the elite. I write about the Mike Rowe Dirty Jobs folks, men and women alike, of all persuasions, colors, and creeds, who manage to dredge victory from the jaws of defeat. Even if it’s merely personal victory — the kind of thing you can go to your grave with, knowing you were your own man. Because those are the heroes of actual history. At least the kinds of heroes I esteem: individuals who managed to do remarkable things, with pluck, courage, a willingness to cut against the grain of expectation, and who never asked anybody for permission — before going off half-cocked and doing something crazy, which ultimately made a positive difference to the lives of decent folk.

Again, I was never one to have much sympathy for the elite. The power brokers. The taste-makers. The ruling class. The people who think they know better than you or I do, about how we ought to live our lives. Or what we ought to think or feel. My general response to that kind of attitude has always been best expressed with a defiant middle finger, aimed proudly. Which maybe makes me a coarse chap? A ruffian? A n’er-do-well?

Certainly David Gerrold has classified me as a man of the street — uncouth, unmannerly, and unwanted.

Despite my best attempts to be the genteel ambassador of Sad Puppies 3 — the grass roots movement which gave voice to thousands of individuals who all more or less felt marginalized by the status quo. Not always for precisely the same reasons, mind you. But people generally floating down the same, wide river. Like a flotilla of scabby-kneed inner-tube riders.

Has my career been threatened? Oh yes, dozens of times. “You’ll never work in this town again!” has been brandished at me by people who seem to believe they have the power to back up the threat. Either because they claim to be able to control the awards (wait, I thought nobody gamed the system until Sad Puppies?) or they claim to be able to control some aspect of publishing, or because they are buddies with “powerful” people who will punish me sight-unseen; simply for being branded a troublemaker.

And if this were still 1995 and my whole livelihood — the matter of putting food on my family’s table — depended on me “playing nice” in the face of such threats, I’d probably be a little more hesitant to overturn the apple cart.

Until very recently, traditional SF/F publishing did hold a kind of trump card. He who controls the Spice, controls the universe! If you wanted to get into print, you played nice with the ruling class.

But this is 2015. My editors aren’t glowering at me over drinks in the con bar. They’re saying, “Go, you.” And even if those editors did not exist, the advent of reliable independent publishing has made it so that a good storyteller can achieve a five, six, or in some rare cases, seven-figure income; all without ever bending a knee to the Spacing Guild.

In a world without monopolies, threats to run a guy out on a rail don’t register like they used to.

Because even if Worldcon bans me for life and I get a drink dumped in my lap by every stalwart member of Fandom (caps f) I can still go to my local Comic Con and enjoy a packed room filled with fans (small f) and compatriots, none of whom ever gave a damn if I brought the “wrong” people to participate in a democratic process (Hugo voting) in the “wrong” way. Hell, I can go to the local professional symposium (LTUE) and get smiles and handshakes — all from people who never cared if the taste-makers or door-watchers gave any of us their blessing.

I’ve said it before: there is the massive, astoundingly huge “circle” that is the totality of fandom (small f) and there is the much, much smaller, more insular, and in many cases, out of touch world of Fandom (big f) which proves its love for the field by having a spectacular meltdown when the “wrong” people speak up and speak out. “Turf it!” the self-selected guardians of Absolutely-Real-Forever-Correct-And-Pure-Fandom yell. “Turf it all! The whole thing! We are being overrun!”

CHORFs are, as they do.

I remember back when I was the 2012 triple-nominee for the three major awards in SF/F: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell. I received a few communications from people who said, this is your big chance to have a seat at the elite table, and become part of the club! Rather than be excited by the prospect, I was disheartened. Because I never wanted to be one of the “behind the curtain” betters who slowly made his way among all the inner circles and schmoozed all the right people and took his proper place; never speaking out of turn, with my pinky aimed in the precise manner. I didn’t seek entrance to Skull and Bones of Sci-Fi. I didn’t care if I was always on the Hugo ballot every year, like clockwork, because I’d played the game the way you’re supposed to play it. Said the right things. Professed the right beliefs. Made the right people think I was one of them.

I’m way too much of a flyover-country hayseed for that kind of atmosphere.

So I fell in with all the other blue-collar people who simply wanted to write and read stories without being accused of doing it wrong. When Sad Puppies was invented — on a lark — I approved of the sentiment. And happily came aboard in the second year, only to become the front man in the third year. It was a chance for the field’s betters to hear from the peasants. For the proles to shout at the bosses. For the taste-makers and the dwellers-behind-curtains to have their cages rattled.

That the field’s betters went full-force destruct-o-matic on me — because I invited the proles to the democracy — was not a surprise. They (the betters) had a media apparatus tailor-made for their bogeyman narrative, and they used this apparatus according to the playbook. Sad Puppies 3 got unceremoniously shoved into the role of Black Hat, and myself along with it.

But it’s worth all the drama, because the betters don’t “own” this field. If they ever did? When David Gerrold holds forth from his Fandom pulpit about “no forgiveness” and all that dire talk, he’s speaking to — at best — a collection of maybe one thousand people. Perhaps the pool of total Keep-Us-Pure-And-Holy-Fans is not even that large anymore? It’s difficult to say. A lot of them are passing on. They’re being replaced by new kids who seem obsessed with identitarian politics — which, not ironically, makes them a perfect fit for the Holy Church of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction — but the replacement rate may not be enough to make up the difference.

Ultimately, the consumer market votes with its collective wallet. You can’t herd those cats, no matter how earnest and pure your motives. Nobody likes a preachy scold. And right now, that’s pretty much the only face being presented by Gerrold and the sundry opponents of SP3: preachy scolds. Dolores Umbridge!

Are you muggle-born? Is your Wizardry blood pure enough? Do you obey the 191 rules posted plainly for all to see on the walls of Hogwarts?

I was always a proud mudblood. And so are almost all of my friends in the field. Sad Puppies 3 is the defiant rebellion of the mudbloods. It’s gotten the functionaries and apparatchiks of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction all hot and bothered. So much so that I’m being threatened with a life sentence to Azkaban. And so is Larry Correia. And the many other faces and names explicitly associated with Sad Puppies 3. We’ve been digitally spat on, our names and our families and our associates have been targeted for ritual pillory, and worse.

Again, all because we invited the proles to the democracy.

Maybe the apparatchiks lock us out? At this point, that’s the logical course of action. Make the door iron-clad, with little slots for inquiring eyes to peak through — to see if anyone coming from the outside is worthy or deserving of entrance. This would be the Umbridge Way. To keep the tribe pure.

A more reasonable solution would be to simply keep re-invigorating the democracy. Bring in still more participants. No litmus tests. No screens. No bars to entrance. But that wouldn’t make the Dolores Umbridges of the world very happy. When you invite too many of the “wrong” people — no vetting — you wind up with an unpredictable and unreliable social structure. Oh my God, they’re going off the script!

Maybe I am just a contrarian? Maybe it’s the fact I have three careers, and I’ve never seen the kind of childishness and petulance (being displayed now, in SF/F) in any other serious endeavor I’ve ever been involved with? Or maybe I simply take the words of Theodore Roosevelt to heart — when he talks about the man in the arena?

As writers, we often tend to tell stories about the maverick — the person who breaks the “rules” for a greater purpose. We have so thoroughly glorified this archetype that it’s almost impossible to find any books or stories which don’t employ a maverick, to one degree or another. I find it strangely bizarre that when this field is faced with real honest-to-goodness mavericks — Sad Puppies 3 — the reaction is apoplectic. The rending of garments, and gnashing of teeth! Do we write all these wonderful stories about mavericks, and miss the whole point? Are we simply wish-fulfilling because we don’t have the stones to actually walk our talk?

In the not too distant future, I’ll be serving my country in a foreign land. I won’t be at Sasquan to see what transpires. I hope saner, cooler heads prevail, and that people comport themselves like adults — that the drama we’re seeing on-line stays on-line.

Between now and then, I am going to conclude my use of this space; pertaining to discussion of the drama. It may or may not go on without my input. It has anyway. My moment (as Sad Puppies front man) is already passing. The Hugo selections for 2015 have been finalized. They are what they are. Love them, or hate them. Vote with your taste, your pleasure, your desire. Or don’t vote at all — though I think that’s a bit of a waste. Democracies of all kinds thrive (or fail) according to the participation of the electorate. Sad Puppies 3 was an exercise in energizing said electorate. I think we’ve succeeded. I look forward to many good artists, authors, editors, and fans, being recognized. I will be in the desert when it happens. I will probably read about it long after the fact.

And I will be content with the fact that I stood up, at a moment in the history of this field when it was worth standing up.

Nuking the Hugos from orbit

Because it’s the only way to be sure!

After a bit of a lull in this kind of talk, it seems certain individuals — I won’t call them “high profile” because we’re dealing with an absurd level of relativity when we discuss the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction — have renewed calls to NO AWARD the voting ballot. Basically, they want to get as many people as possible to rank NO AWARD in the top slot in each category, so as to burn the categories — that way none of the “wrong” works, artists, editors, or writers, get to have a Hugo award this year. There will literally be no awards given. Scorched Earth!

I confess — as someone who is vocally critical of World Science Fiction Convention’s notoriously insular attitude — to being disappointed by the rattling of the nuclear saber. Mostly because even I don’t think there are enough Fans (caps f) in Fandom (also caps F) who are this selfish, cheap, and petulant. After decades of seeing the Hugos be quietly gamed, people are now going to blow the thing up, because a democracy was used democratically?

It’s not a matter of whether or not you think a slate is gauche, or you think the “wrong” people got to participate in the selection process.

What’s at stake right now is: do the Fans (caps f) of Fandom (caps f) love Science Fiction and Fantasy, or do the Fans merely love their insider club with its insider biases?

Are the people crying the loudest about how Sad Puppies 3 “gamed” the system, really concerned with the integrity of the award, or are they mad merely because they didn’t get to have their way?

Notice that some of the crankiest souls, are also among those who have benefited the most from the “old” way, with it’s numerous and sundry soft manipulations; multiple upon multiple Hugo nominations, and Hugo wins.

I mean, it’s not like this is some kind of shocking revelation. Harlan Ellison was talking about this 20 years ago. In a sea of annual production, the likelyhood that the Hugo is now (or could ever be again) given for purely meritorious reasons — without boosterism, without folks getting together to push for things — was nill. And since Harlan didn’t seem particularly bothered by it, I am not sure why anyone else is bothered by it. Folks have been lobbying (for themselves, or on behalf of others) behind the scenes for decades.

The internet merely made this lobbying public.

The chief sin of Sad Puppies 3 seems to be that we were transparent and we were successful beyond all expectation.

Many a red herring has been lobbed at us over the past three weeks. All of these are colossal distractions from the central question I’ve been asking my entire (short, so far) career: do the Hugos even matter anymore, and if they don’t, how to we get them to matter again?

My logic has been: get more people to vote, and bring those people in from diverse sectors of the consumer market, and the cachet of the award increases because more and more people from a broader spectrum of the totality of fandom (small f) will have a stake in the award, pay attention to what’s selected for the final ballot, and will view the award as a valid marker of enjoyability; or at least notoriety.

Especially since the Hugos have already been subjected to numerous manipulations (again, all behind the scenes) by authors, voters, and publishers, who all seem to want the Hugo to better reflect their tastes, their interests, their politics, and their pet points they want to make with the award.

So, Sad Puppies rolled up its sleeves and said, “Let’s see what happens if we really go to work,” and the answer was: Holy damn, look at that!

And now the response from some has been to say, “Fuck it all, the award is no good when the wrong people get to vote, so let’s just nuke the whole thing from orbit this year, and set about rejiggering the rules so that the wrong people don’t get to meddle with things next time.” (For all definitions of wrong which include, “Whoever David Gerrold doesn’t seem to like this week.”)

That grownups are deploying this argument — we will take our ball and go home! — merely reinforces every unfortunate stereotype anyone has ever had; about Fandom, about Worldcon, about nerds and geeks in general. That we pitch fits when things don’t go our way. That we love playing fair, until we don’t get what we want, and then it’s time to kick our feet and bang our plastic knives and forks on our high-chair tables, and throw our food at the wall.

Again, I like to think that Fandom is made of sterner stuff than this. Sure, there are a few spoilsports who seem to have taken it very personally — that the Hugo ballot doesn’t look the way they think it should look this year. As one notable editor remarked to me in confidence, “Now they know how we always feel!” To which I can only say, indeed.

And the cranks are certainly trying to rally as many people as they can to their cause. Which is fine. Again, this is Fandom and Worldcon on trial here. Not anyone involved with Sad Puppies 3. This is a mettle moment: when Fandom has to ask itself, “Are we really people who love Science Fiction and Fantasy? Or are we simply in love with ourselves instead?”

If the answer is the former, then NO AWARD will not carry the day. The grownups will have prevailed.

If the answer is the latter, then NO AWARD will nuke the categories, and the bigger SF/F world will have conclusive proof that both Worldcon and the Hugo awards are one-hundred-percent irrelevant in the 21st century.

If I were a committed Fan in Fandom, I’d stare long and hard at my ballot, before going with the second option.

Seriously, blowing up the Hugos with NO AWARD is not just terrible public relations, not just terrible sportsmanship, not just terrible (far moreso than any slate or list!) etiquette, it will totally and permanently turf whatever limited credibility the Hugo had left — in the wider world of SF/F fans, and fan regard. The Hugo will literally become the “little” award for “little” people, who like giving themselves shiny stuff, and making sure that the “bad” people don’t even get to have a seat at the table, nor have any of the shiny stuff.

I say, GO GROWNUPS! You know who you are. Read your packets. Don’t follow the cranks. You don’t owe the cranks anything anyway.

And if you are genuinely upset with Sad Puppies, by golly, get out your vote next year. Go around and rattle a few of your own cages. Wake up the electorate! If it’s the voted award, then the award relies on the health of its democracy. Don’t change the rules or call for the award to be spiked. Get people motivated to have a say. That’s all we at Sad Puppies 3 did: we motivated people to have their say.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not for anybody.

Ringing the bell

Picking up where I left off with my post on tribalism. Because I wanted to talk specifically about a recurrent kind of “broken” I am seeing in arguments all over the place — beyond the tiny halls of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction. This “broken” is most commonly manifested among well-meaning straight Caucasian folk, but is often fostered and preached about by non-straight and/or non-Caucasians of a particularly aggressive “progressive” persuasion.

The “broken” goes like this:

● Any member of the majority group is always guilty of ism no matter what.
● The ism is a fatal character and moral flaw, from which the afflicted cannot fully recover.
● Members of the minority group can never be guilty of ism; because the minority group lacks power.
● Members of the majority group must be “shown” their ism and/or be made to confess their inherent flaw; en route to being reformed.
● Reformed members of the majority group will actively assist in pointing out the ism of unreformed people.
● Proof (of ism) is not required; guilt will always be assumed.
● The more a target denies or resists charges of ism, the greater the obvious culpability.
● The unreformed are “fair game” for all manner of actions designed to be personally destructive to the target(s).
● Lying (and other unethical behavior) on the part of the plaintiff(s) — against the target(s) — is forgivable, because the ends justify the means.

Folks, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is Witch Trials 101. There’s nothing new about any of it. All we’ve done is wrap the witch trials up in trendy 21st century politics. When people are automatically guilty of a crime, for which no evidence is required, and the accusers are permitted a kind of political immunity while the protestations of the innocent are merely used as “proof” that the innocent were guilty all along . . . that’s witch trials. Burning at the stake. Except, these days the stake and the village square are located on the internet, and the villagers — with digital pitch forks and torches — are anyone with access to Twitter, a blog, Facebook, or some other form of social media.

Some people who actively engage in the witch trials and witch hunts, are cynics using the process for pure spite, vindictiveness, or to take down enemies.

But many people are not cynics; they really do believe they’re doing a good thing. Or at least, they want to be seen doing the “good thing” so that they can (hopefully) avoid becoming a target themselves.

I call this behavior RINGING THE BELL.

Think of it like the classic carnival game. At the bottom of the pole you have the weight. The bottom of the pole represents the default state of existence, which (according to the “broken” narrative) is ism. Could be racism, could be sexism, could be homophobia, or transphobia, etc. Whatever terrible ism is hiding under our beds, that’s where the bottom of the pole is. And that’s where you are, simply as a matter of breathing air. The only way to “prove” you are reformed, is to take your mallet and thwack the lever, hurling the weight up the pole with the intent to ring the bell. The harder and more often you slam your mallet down — over and over — the more you will feel like (and be seen by others being) reformed. AKA: you are an “ally” in the fight against ism.

“See? *DING* See how I ring the bell? *DING* I am one of the good ones! *DING* I am making a difference!”

Again, ethics aren’t really part of it. What counts is how much force you put into slamming that mallet. Ergo, how many times others hear or see you ringing the bell.

Things that count as “slamming the mallet, ringing the bell” on the internet:

● Accuse others of ism.
● Self-denigrate and self-flagellate, for the sake of expunging your own ism.
● Public confessions of ist thoughts and ist feelings.
● Twitter-mobbing “fair game” targets.
● Social media gossiping and lying about “fair game” targets.
● Doxxing “fair game” targets.
● Threatening the family and friends of “fair game” targets.
● Threatening the livelyhood of “fair game” targets.

And so on, and so forth.

Really, it’s an alluringly toxic wedding of no-heavy-lifting slacktivism, with guilt-free self-righteousness — that doesn’t require a participant to get his or her hands dirty, can be done from behind the safety of a keyboard and screen, affords anonymity (if you want it), or allows you to self-valorize in front of spectators.

Is it any wonder this game has become so popular?

I tend to reject the “broken” wherever and whenever I encounter it. Mostly because I don’t believe in the model of the carnival game, where everybody’s default resting state is ism. This is just another kind of original sin, secularized and modernized. I’ve never trucked with people who espouse the “broken” doctrine. And it is a doctrine. Very trendy, and very popular — especially in the hothouse halls of university humanities theory. If you believe the theory, you can never escape your original sin, because you were born with it. And your only recourse is to adopt the hair shirt, set about decrying original sin in others, and trying very hard to make sure you’re one step ahead of the inquisition.

Which is — to my mind — not only morally and ethically wrong, it’s also futile; and exhausting. Nobody who is actually enduring a societal injustice is much helped by participants staging the kabuki “broken” theater. The kabuki is purely about dancing the dance according to the forms, so that participants can align themselves correctly — in order to not be seen on the wrong side of the political and social tracks.

Again, this is no-heavy-lifting slacktivism.

But who wants to have to keep ringing the bell? Sooner or later you’re going to run out of steam — not to mention friends. You can’t run around pointing your finger at the motes in the eyes of others, while ignoring the beam in your own. Eventually you will slip up and your “friends” on the correct side of the kabuki will throw you to the wolves — you will be declared “fair game” and all the tactics you formerly used against others, will come home to roost against you personally.

Better — I believe fervently — to abolish original sin. Stop the kabuki. No human being is born into a state of ism and no person should ever fear being counted guilty of a crime that has not actually been provably committed.

Yes, there is the question of tribalism, and it’s not a bad idea to keep on your toes in this regard. Because I believe tribal instincts run deep in human beings, and we manifest our tribalism every day. Often in very benign and harmless ways. Sometimes in less-than-harmless ways, too. But merely keeping your wits about you, and working against tribalist instinct that can turn destructive, is the hallmark of the thinking mind. It proves that you give benefit of the doubt to your fellow human beings.

The witch hunt is not the hallmark of the thinking mind. There is no benefit of the doubt. The kabuki is the activity of the unthinking — people who seek an easy path to the cheapest sort of binary absolutism, and an unearned self-elevation above others.

Presently, the “broken” is running rampant in our popular culture. Nobody is quite sure what to do about it, except more and more people are growing alarmed at the consequences. Lives and reputations are being ruined. Careers destroyed. Families attacked without warrant. And much worse still.

Every time any of us engage in ringing the bell — despite our best intentions — we cause the candle flame of the Western Enlightenment to flicker. We’re enshrining emotion, at the expense of reason. Placing inductive logic and argument above deductive logic and argument. We’re inviting back into our hearts (and our heads) the many centuries of Dark Ages philosophy, which shackled culture after culture throughout history.

And no, it doesn’t matter if you think you’ve got good intentions.

The road to Hell has been paved with those for countless thousands of years.

Hopefully a breaking point is reached — that we’re either near it, or at it.

Because the society we create today, is the society we gift to our children tomorrow. And right now, society is imperiled from within, by the witch hunters.

Innocent, until proven guilty. Beyond any shadow of doubt. With facts. With evidence. That is the precept upon which liberal Western law is based. It is the foundation of the polite society. It is the root of what makes us a great people. We’re presently edging away from what makes us great. We’re letting our good intentions take us down a path to perdition. Hopefully enough courageous individuals straighten up and realize what’s happening — with time to slam on the brakes, and reverse course.

We don’t have to do this — we don’t have to dance the kabuki and ring the bell — in order to make the world a just place.

Sad Puppies: We are not Rabid Puppies

Larry Correia pretty much nailed it with his comments. I can only broaden mine to include “we” because nobody who is on the Sad Puppies 3 slate enlisted for the sake of being a Rabid Puppy.

I’ll state it again for emphasis: we are not Rabid. None of us wants to burn the Hugos down. We want the Hugos to live up their reputation as the preeminent award in the combined field of Science Fiction & Fantasy. We want Worldcon to be an actually diverse thing with authors and fans participating from across the spectrum, without having to worry about litmus tests or being in the correct groups. We don’t want people to have to be chameleons who hide who they are — or what they like or what they create — because it’s not what the “cool kids” agree with.

The objectives of Sad Puppies 3 have been simple and consistent:

● Use the democratic selection system of the Hugo awards.
● No “quiet” logrolling. Make it transparent.
● Boost authors, editors, and works — regardless of political persuasion.
● Bring recognition to people who’ve been long overlooked.
● Get some good promotion for new folks coming up in the field.
● Have fun!

In the past two weeks, the opponents of fun have been deploying a lot of Alinsky-style tactics from Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals. I am generally opposed to these tactics because they ignore ethics and morals and focus almost entirely on power for its own sake. But there’s no question that Alinsky was a smart guy who understands how people — and groups especially — tend to think and work. I said it two days ago: humans are tribal. Right now the Hugo awards have become a war of the tribes, and while most of the time Larry Correia and I and the Sad Puppies (laughing!) can be happy warriors, the one thing Larry and I don’t enjoy doing is messing with 3rd grade playground games like “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”

Nobody on Sad Puppies 3 signed up to be Rabid Puppies.

Nobody on Sad Puppies 3 signed up to be Rabid Puppies.

We are not Rabid Puppies. Larry and I are not Vox Day. As Larry said, that’s like saying Roosevelt and Churchill are Stalin.

We’re driving on the same freeway, but our destinations appear to be drastically different. Different cars. Different driving styles. We don’t want to be pulled over because the guy in the other car is doing 110 MPH. We can’t control the other driver(s) on the freeway.

Anyone who can’t see this, is either a) not examining the details closely enough, or b) using the fallacious guilt-by-association argument to try to “win” this thing. I get it. Vox is kryptonite. Everybody hates him. Many of the people on the SP3 slate hate him, and are profoundly annoyed that Rabid Puppies has turned out to be something of a spoiler in a larger, more principled argument.

Because I am the front man for SP3 I am tired of the participants and selections on the Sad Puppies 3 slate having to defend themselves from a fallacious attack.

So, let me flip it back at the crowd:

● Anyone attacking or bullying or cajoling any person on the Sad Puppies 3 slate, should be ashamed of this activity.
● Anyone who persists in making the fallacious guilt-by-association argument, is not being honest in his intentions.
● Sad Puppies 3 won’t dignify keyboard bullying or fallacious argument.
● This means I will not dignify keyboard bullying or fallacious argument.
● Two wrongs don’t make a right; if you hate Vox for being a dickhead, don’t be a dickhead yourself.
● The people and works on SP3 deserve better than for you to be a dickhead, just because you hate somebody else.

I won’t spend much more time on this, because I have spent too much time on it already. I fully grasp and understand that Sad Puppies 3 was going to be controversial no matter what, because Sad Puppies 3 challenges the status quo in an artistic field overloaded with people who think out loud through their blogs and social media. Some people seem to understand what’s going on, and are seeking principled positions — both pro, and con. I have engaged where I am able, and respect the principled disagreement that doesn’t turn ad hominem.

If you want to play “Stop hitting yourself!” you can go play it with somebody else your own age. I’m a grownup. And so is everyone else on the SP3 slate. Grownups should not have to defend themselves from, nor argue with, bratty kids.

Bratty kids are all about discrediting, intimidation, fear, keyboard bullying, group-think, and the hasty entrenching of false narratives.

Sad Puppies 3 is about better things.

If you want to be a jerk — if you want to be Vox Day’s mirror image — that’s no longer my concern, nor is it the concern of Sad Puppies 3.

We love this field. We’re sorry to be causing a ruckus that got bigger than expected. We’re sorry people are angry.

Read your voter packets. Vote for what you like best. That’s the mission. All else is posturing.