Puppygate

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Event
Event: Puppygate
Name(s): Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen, Vox Day, Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Gamergate
Date(s): 2015, 2016
Type: block-voting controversy
Fandom: literary science fiction fandom
URL:
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Puppygate is a block-voting controversy concerning the Hugo Awards, science fiction's oldest and most prestigious honor. Politically conservative science fiction writers started campaigns to overturn what they believed was an injustice: that Social Justice Warriors had kept SF fandom hostage to their political agendas for years and that a secret liberal cabal who did not represent SF fandom at large was ultimately responsible for works with progressive themes and/or by non-white, LGBT and female authors winning Hugos in the 2010s. As a result of their campaigns, 2015 and 2016 Hugo Award nominations were skewed, many fans were angered, and members of Worldcon voted to change the Hugo nomination process.

In 2015, the Sad Puppies group, led by professional authors Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia and the Rabid Puppies group, led by professional author and game designer Theodore Beale, known as Vox Day, swept the Hugo nominations by proposing slates and exhorting their followers to vote for them. Although the puppy campaigns successfully overran the nomination process, their efforts ultimately resulted in only one win, Guardians of the Galaxy, for the category of Best Dramatic Presentation/Long Form, and a record-breaking number of No Awards[1].

Day found allies in GamerGate participants, and in the backlash after the nominees were announced, both Torgersen and Correia tried to distance themselves from Day's rhetoric and methods.

As a result of all the conflict, the supporting memberships for Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon (where the Hugo winners are announced), went through the roof. (A supporting membership allows one to vote on the Hugo awards, and to nominate for them next year.) Many people advocated voting "No Award" in several or all categories. George R. R. Martin has spoken extensively about it in the Hugo Award tag at his Livejournal.[2]

SF fans were talking about puppygate for months; the nominations were announced in April, and the winners were announced in August. There is no known linkspam/roundup location collecting all the relevant posts; the discussion is happening in several places at Livejournal, individual author blogs, fansites, and Facebook.[3]

Some roundup and summary posts:

Background: The Hugo Award and its Discontents

The Hugo Awards are a set of awards given annually to science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and actifans at Worldcon. Anyone who buys a membership for Worldcon can nominate works for the award, but as noted by many, the number of fans who actually participate in the nomination process is a small subset of even Worldcon attendees, who in turn represent a small subset of the SF readership. Theoretically, everyone who nominates does so independently and purely based on merit. However, there will always be people, especially those overlooked for nominations or who didn't enjoy the winners, who may wonder if the vote is rigged in some way.

Presumably, suspicions about the Hugo voting process date back to the first year the award was given, though the only confirmed case(?) of block voting before the puppies occurred when Scientologists got The Invaders Plan, a 1986 novel by their founder L. Ron Hubbard, onto the Hugo ballot.[4] A humorous talk given by Dave Langford at the 1987 Worldcon references this event: "SF fandom was plunged as usual into controversy when the Pope published a science fiction novel called Immaculate Genesis: there were worries about massive Hugo block-voting by members of the little-known 'Catholic' cult which has been openly condemned by several British governments since the reign of Henry VIII...."[5]

Worldcon itself is no stranger to wank: see Worldcon#Controversies. For example, the Futurians were banned from the first con. At the time, there was a fierce debate in fandom with different factions arguing about what science fiction was and who should control it.[6] These factions were intensely political. Nothing has changed.

How Puppygate Started

“I wanted to leave a big smoking hole where the Hugo Awards were. All this has ever been is a giant Fuck You -- one massive gesture of contempt." - Theodore Beale (Vox Day), quoted in the Guardian for 2015-08-23.

In 2013 conservative SF writer Larry Correia started a "Sad Puppy" campaign to get a more "diverse" set of authors nominated for the Hugo Awards; his view was that women and minorities were getting nominated and winning Hugos based on liberal politics and not on literary merit. In a 2015 podcast he said,

The nominations are kinda controlled by certain little cliques. Now don't get me wrong, I think most of the Worldcon voters are inherently honest people who really value the system and they treat it very seriously. I have nothing but respect for those people. But I believe that they are--they're not outnumbered, but they are outmaneuvered. So what happens is these little politically motivated cliques, they can nominate all their friends and get all their people on there based on the politics of the person, not the quality of the work.[7]

Correia also had been nominated for, but did not receive, the Campbell award in 2011.[8] He said that when he was nominated people had freaked out because he was "openly conservative"; he attributed his subsequent loss to liberal bias.[9]

The campaign got its name from a series of SPCA promos featuring sad-looking animals rescued from abuse. A joke by Correia had related the leading cause of puppy sadness to "boring message-fic winning awards". Additionally, Correia created a cartoon mascot "spokesman" in the form of a talking manatee.[10]

2014 saw Sad Puppies 2. Correia proposed a slate for people to nominate in a block vote, thus insuring that every (?) item on the slate made it onto the Hugo ballots. None of them won a Hugo. In 2015, when Brad Torgersen took over the Sad Puppy campaign ("Sad Puppies 3"), the slate included almost enough names to crowd out any non-slate nominees. Meanwhile, Vox Day, generally considered to be a radical right extremist neo-Nazi bigot[11] and only the second person to be kicked out of the SFWA, proposed an alternate slate, "Rabid Puppies", that overlapped considerably with the Sad Puppies slate.

Torgersen provided a second rationale for the Sad Puppy slate: SF had become too "literary," and the Hugo winners no longer represented what the average fan actually enjoyed. On his blog he complained of the inability to judge Science Fiction books by their covers these days:

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?[12]

The nominations were announced April 4, 2015, and lo and behold the majority of nominees in most categories were from one of the two slates: the rest of SF fandom was outraged. Initial analysis from SF bloggers concluded that Vox Day's slate was more successful than the official Sad Puppy slate[1][2]. Someone in connection with Rabid Puppies put out a call on Twitter to Gamergaters in order to increase the number of votes in the block.[3] Jim Hines noted other connections between both puppy slates and Gamergate in the comments to his blog post. Correia and Torgersen have publicly distanced themselves from Day[4][5]. Reportedly, sad puppies have also attempted to scrub the internet of their Gamergate sympathies/connections. News media conflated Sad Puppies with Rabid Puppies and reported that GamerGate was responsible for everything. Several of the nominees declined their nominations, two of them after the announcement, which was a Hugo first; sad puppies claimed that the authors were bullied into declining, but other fans have argued that authors didn't want to be associated with the sad puppies and/or didn't want an award that everyone now knew was meaningless.[13]

2015 Withdrawals

Several nominees withdrew their names from consideration; one of these was after the nominees were locked in and the ballots could not be changed. In addition, former Hugo winner Connie Willis withdrew from presenting.

Matthew David Surridge posted a long (~10k words) explanation of his understanding of the politics involved, along with his explanation for withdrawing from consideration as Best Fan Writer, on April 4th: A Detailed Explanation "I think it’s clear how extensively I disagree with the Puppy campaigns, and why I don’t want an award nomination that primarily comes from being placed on their slates. I should have investigated the situation more thoroughly in February when I found out that I was on those slates, and I should have asked to be removed then. Again, I extend my apologies to everyone for not doing so at that time."

Connie Willis turned down the opportunity to present the Campbell Award, saying she cannot allow herself to support bullying as a campaign tactic:

In my own particular case, I feel I’ve also been ordered to go along with them and act as if this were an ordinary Hugo Awards ceremony. I’ve essentially been told to engage in some light-hearted banter with the nominees, give one of them the award, and by my presence–and my silence–lend cover and credibility to winners who got the award through bullying and extortion.
Well, I won’t do it. I can’t do it. If I did, I’d be collaborating with them in their scheme. [14]

Mark Kloos, whose novel Lines of Departure was nominated, posted a public withdrawal on his blog: "if this nomination gives even the appearance that Vox Day or anyone else had a hand in giving it to me because of my perceived political leanings, I don’t want it. I want to be nominated for awards because of the work, not because of the “right” or “wrong” politics."[15]

Annie Bellet withdrew her story "Goodnight Stars" from consideration, in a blog post that has since been removed.[16] "I am not your ball. My fiction is my message, not someone else’s, and I refuse to participate in a war I didn’t start. It has become clear to me that the only way to stay out of this is to pick up my ball and go home." Bellet had been a longtime friend of Correia, and expressed a belief that he and Torgersen had been manipulated by Beale.[10]

Black Gate was nominated for Best Fanzine, and withdrew on April 18: "The strongest argument I can muster is that I believe that Black Gate is a superb website, the product of thousands of hours of dedicated effort from dozens of the top writers in the field every single month, and if there’s even the slightest chance that giving it a Hugo would in any way diminish the reputation of the Awards, we, as an organization and as a team, categorically reject any involvement in that effort."[17]

Edmund Schubert, the editor of webzine Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, wished to withdraw his name from consideration as Best Editor (short form). posted an open letter which was reposted with permission at John Scalzi's blog. However, he posted it after the deadline for withdrawals. He says:

While I personally find it challenging that some people won’t read IGMS because they disagree with the publisher’s perceived politics (which have nothing whatsoever to do with what goes into the magazine), I can’t in good conscience complain about the deck being stacked against me, and then feel good about being nominated for an award when the deck gets stacked in my favor. That would make me a hypocrite. I can’t be part of that and still maintain my integrity.[18]

In addition to nominees who withdrew, Juliette Wade was informed of the nominations beforehand, and asked for her novelette, "Mind Locker," to be removed from the slate when she realized it was something other than a standard rec list:

You did not say you were going to be calling it the Sad Puppies list. I feel like you were misrepresenting it. I’m happy to be one of your Hugo recommendations. This is different.[19]

2015 Award Results

The 2015 Hugo Awards were presented on August 22, 2015.

The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, a 2008 Chinese-language novel translated into English in 2014, won best novel. Laura J. Mixon won best fan writer for her expose on Winterfox. See the complete list of wins and nominations here.

The Hugo Awards website reported that 5950 votes were counted and that No Award won in five categories.[20] Detailed vote counts here.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the results, noting that the only apparent win for the Puppies, Guardians of the Galaxy, had wide support beyond the puppies.[6] Fail-fandomanon agreed. One anon noted that "it definitively proves that it's not just people voting against Puppies on purpose. They just think that most of the Puppies' choices are well and truly shit. When they think one of the nominated works is good, like this one, people still voted for it."[7]

For the most part, puppy nominations finished behind No Award.

2016

The process repeated itself in 2016, but this time sf fandom was not surprised and there was not as much discussion or outrage. Media reports following the winner announcements had titles like "Right-Wing Activists Fail to Ruin the Hugo Awards; Fiction Categories Swept by Women." The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin won best novel, and No Award ended up winning in two categories.[21]

During the 2015 Worldcon, members voted to change the Hugo nomination process to prevent block-voting strategies like the sad puppies from succeeding in future years. This change was dubbed "E Pluribus Hugo" aka EPH. However, for rule changes to take effect, the vote must pass at two Worldcons. Members voted to ratify EPH at the 2016 Worldcon, but the new rule cannot be implemented until 2017. As a result, the 2016 Hugo nominations were also affected by slate voting.[22]

Sad Puppies 4 was a "recommendation list" rather than a strict slate, so their effect on the nominations was minimal, but the Rabid Puppies ran another slate. Of note, the 2016 Rabid Puppy slate contained several popular or progressive entries. Some people expressed the opinion that these might have made it onto the ballot anyway and that the Rabid Puppies would try to take credit if these nominees won; alternatively, it was suggested that the Rabid Puppies were hoping that the anti-Puppy nominees would voluntarily withdraw or that anti-Puppy voters would rate them below No Award on general principle. In particular, the fact that the Rabid Puppies had nominated gay dinosaur porn by the pseudonymous self-published author Chuck Tingle was a source of much merriment in fandom. As one FFA nonnie put it,

The dinosaur porn got nominated as a potshot at the whole diversity-in-SF concept - like, a YOU WANT DIVERSITY??? HERE, HAVE SOME FUCKING DIVERSITY type thing. However, that has kind of backfired because a) pretty much everybody loves the dinosaur porn, b) the dinosaur porn is also excellent SF and c) the Puppies are now not only known as the people who voluntarily named themselves "the Sad Puppies", but are also the people who nominated gay dinosaur erotica for a Hugo award.[23]

Another anon commented:

I'm not entirely certain what VD hopes to gain by getting Tingle onto the Hugo ballot, other than that he is a giant fucking troll and he thinks it's funny. Of course, the joke is on him, because it is funny![24]

Chuck Tingle countered by arranging for Zoe Quinn, enemy #1 of GamerGate, to accept the award for him, but did not ultimately win the award. Tingle did win fandom's admiration for his humorous trolling of Vox Day and the Puppies. After the awards, he tweeted, "time of devilmen hasselin hugos this year wont be remembered with sadness and dispair but with laughter joy and love. that is winning"[25]

Puppygate Transformative Works

Further Reading: Spring 2015

General:

Fail_Fandomanon: Several discussions were hosted on Fail_Fandomanon (where nonnies had apparently tried to nominate the meme for a Hugo?)

Black Gate:

George RR Martin:

dreamingaboutotherworlds:

John Scalzi:

Hugo history:

Further Reading: Post 2015 Hugos

Fail_fandomanon:

Further Reading: 2016

Other Resources

References

  1. In five categories: Best Novella, Short Story, Related Work, Editor Short Form, and Editor Long Form. This was equal to the number of previous No Awards for the entire history of the Hugos. 2015 Hugo Award Winners Announced Posted on August 22, 2015 by Kevin at thehugoawards.org
  2. "We're SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FANS, we love to read about aliens and vampires, and elves. Are we really going to freak about Asians and Native Americans?" Where's The Beef?, entry dated April 9, 2015.
  3. Considering Martin's involvement, there is a notable lack of related Game of Thrones gifsets (screenshots captioned with jokes or slogans) bouncing around the social network tumblr where many of today's fans -- and SJWs -- tend to congregate.
  4. See Mission Earth sales controversy at Wikipedia. This apparently happened twice. Hubbard's 1954 novel To the Stars was nominated for a retro award for Best Novella in 2001.
  5. From "The Ansible Year in Review", later printed in Pulp #6.
  6. Amy Wallace, Sci-Fi’s Hugo Awards and the Battle for Pop Culture’s Soul: Equality in the digital age. Wired, 2015-10-30.
  7. Starting at 12:43. Adventures in SciFi Publishing #289 - Sad Puppies with Larry Correia, Brad R. Torgersen, Archived version, posted 8 March 2015.
  8. See Wikipedia:John_W._Campbell_Award_for_Best_New_Writer.
  9. Starting at 11:45 in Adventures in SciFi Publishing #289 - Sad Puppies with Larry Correia, Brad R. Torgersen, Archived version, posted 8 March 2015. He also mentions "a big clique of people talking about how we're never going to read him, he's evil, he's bad, he's a horrible person."
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wallace, Amy (23 August 2015). "Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters". Wired. Wired. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  11. Some sources: article in The New Republic 17 April 2015; failfandomanonwiki's entry; Rational Wiki's entry; Fundies Say the Darndest Things search results; Solving My Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit Problem, a 2 February 2013 blog post by John Scalzi; Vox Day: The Mixoning, a 15 April 2015 Tumblr post.
  12. Brad Torgersen, SAD PUPPIES 3: The unraveling of an unreliable field, Feb 2015
  13. Two Finalists Withdraw from 2015 Hugo Awards, website announcement posted April 16, 2015.
  14. Why I Won't Be a Presenter at the Hugo Awards This Year, Apr 14, 2015
  15. A Statement on My Hugo Nomination, April 15, 2015
  16. Hugo Story Withdrawn Apr 15 - Google cache version
  17. Black Gate Withdraws From Hugo Consideration (Wayback machine link)
  18. In Which Edmund Schubert Withdraws From the Hugos, Whatever, Apr 27, 2015
  19. An Account of Juliette Wade’s Withdrawal from Sad Puppies 3, posted at File770 on May 2, 2015
  20. 2015 Hugo Award Winners Announced Posted on August 22, 2015 by Kevin at thehugoawards.org
  21. 2016 Hugo Awards, Archived version (Accessed 21 August 2016.)
  22. David Barnett, Hugo awards shortlist dominated by rightwing campaign. Guardian, 26 April 2016.
  23. 2016-05-02 anon comment in Hugopocalypse II: the Puptastrophe Continues thread
  24. 2016-05-02 anon comment in Hugopocalypse II: the Puptastrophe Continues thread
  25. Tweet by ChuckTingle, 7:29 PM - 21 Aug 2016.