Dividing the Fandom: The Real Problem with the Sad Puppies

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On April 4, the 2015 Hugo Award nominees were announced at Norwescon. (Read here for the full list and links). Immediately afterwards, it became apparent to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy world that two affiliated groups, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, had organized a bloc vote for their own respective slates of nominees. This isn’t anything new, and the structure of the Hugos leaves them vulnerable to this kind of campaigning; however, many people are unhappy with the groups’ message and the fact that it has been able to gain so much traction.

I am one of those unhappy people. I don’t like it when people use their right to free speech to promote hate and bigotry.

But here’s the thing about free speech: it does not mean that what you say has no consequences. Your legal right to express your opinions, however distasteful, does not protect you from other people using their legal right to express their opinions.

So here I am, expressing my opinion that those who have orchestrated these groups are promoting hate and poisoning the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community.

I’ve spent the last few weeks on the blogs of Brad R. Torgersen, Larry Correia, and Vox Day, the creators of the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. I do not advise it. Those of you who have the stomach for it are welcome to click those links and give it a shot for yourselves, but I understand that not everyone is willing to enter the lion’s den. They have spoken out against women’s rights, racial equality, and have accused everyone who doesn’t agree with them of consorting with the “liberal media” to turn science fiction into an exclusive club of elitists.

But what upsets me more than their personal politics (as distasteful to my sensibilities as they may be) is that they are using exclusionist tactics to combat exclusion. They accuse the current fandom of gatekeeping, while at the same time actively shutting out those who they see as the wrong kinds of fans.

Ian McKellan for Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings, Production company WingNut Films The Saul Zaentz Company Distributed by	New Line Cinema

Is there gatekeeping within fandom? Absolutely. Anyone who hasn’t had to pass the “true fan” test should count themselves one of the lucky few. Is the right way to fight it by further excluding people? No.

Fandom has been diversifying. We have more consumers and creators that don’t fall within the straight/white/male category than ever. The unfortunate thing about the Sad/Rabid Puppies is that they have mistakenly engaged in an Us vs. Them mentality. Politics aside, the message the Puppies are sending is this: “We feel that, by including those other people, we are being excluded. So let’s exclude them and set everything right.”

The problem with this mentality is that it’s not accurate. There is no set cap on the number of creators or fans that are allowed in any given category; there’s room for everyone who is willing to respect their fellow fans. That being said, there is absolutely no room for those who don’t.

I love my diverse fandom. And I don’t just mean in terms of race, gender, sexuality, political leaning, etc. These kinds of diversity are great, but right now I’m talking about diversity of interest. I love that fans of Star Wars, The Walking Dead, and Captain Marvel are all part of the SF fandom. That one can be a fan of the movies, the TV adaptations, of the comics, and still attend the same conventions. I love that fandom no longer just applies to those that attend cons; if you enjoy it, you are a part of the community.

For years, the SF community has been a way of uniting people from different backgrounds through their media, even more so now with the internet. It’s upsetting to see this concept of fandom unity manipulated in a way that denies the validity of someone’s expression of fandom.

DENIED graphic, rap battles of history wikia, unattributed, What-If-I-Am-Denied-A-Mortgage-LoanBut the gatekeepers are in the minority. Many are calling for a response by voting “No Award” for every category in this year’s Hugos, but I think this is a poor reaction for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s unfair to the creators who did not ask to be affiliated with the Puppies, and who were unaware of being included on the slate without their consent. Secondly, it will serve to further divide our fandom. I may be officially taking a stand against the Puppies, but it is a sad day when one must choose a side or be cast out of the community. Finally, it will give these groups more attention than they deserve. If no award is given, then the Puppies have won, because they have made us admit that we would rather burn down our entire house rather than let them continue to reside within it.

What should we do instead? Vote as you normally would. Familiarize yourself with the nominees. Make a decision. And next year, be aware that they will likely try this again. If you never had a reason to buy a membership before and can afford it, this is that reason. If you can’t afford it, share and support the work of creators you enjoy. Remind the Puppies that they are still a minority within our fandom, and that they absolutely do not control our community.

You Tried Star, tumblrAnd finally, I would like to address the Sad/Rabid Puppies directly. I don’t like you. I don’t agree with your politics. But as fans, you have as much a right to be here as I do, assuming you are respectful. You have every right to nominate the creators whose work you enjoy. I sincerely wish that was the driving force behind this campaign, but I know it was not. If you’re upset that the Hugos (and the fandom as a whole) are changing, diversifying, and becoming more inclusive, then you are more than welcome to go start your own club. Start giving out Sad Puppy Awards to your favorite creators, instead of hijacking a long-established ceremony and ruining it for the rest of us. You have every right to voice your opinions, just like I have every right to voice mine. So let’s agree to stay away from each other. You can keep your conservative, exclusionist attitudes to your blogs and your followers, and I’ll keep my liberal, Social Justice Warrior mentality to mine.

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About Author

KM is a queer Nashvillian who reads a lot of books and watches too much TV. She hopes to one day retire as a recluse book printer with a farm of pigs.

1 Comment

  1. I looked at the comment thread on Brad Torgersen’s blog where people were suggesting works for the Sad Puppy slate.

    41 people “nominated,” among other things, 35 books. 4 books got 3 nominations each. 4 got 2 nominations each. The remaining 27 got one nomination each.

    This is what nominations normally look like. Even in a group whose tastes tend to align, a “favorite” still gets nominated by less than 10% of the voters. Brad threw 30 of those books out in the cold, to collate the suggestions to a slate of five books, with nomination rates that presumably approached 100%. The Sad Puppies, instead of voting their honest favorites, settled on acceptable second-best choices in order to boost their nominating power ten-fold.

    This let 17% of the nominators appoint 75% of the Hugo Ballot, including six categories that are only Puppy Picks.

    In the process of collating the slate, the Sad Puppies overlooked two works that were just their kind of thing: Three-Body Problem, an exciting new hard SF novel that I saw Vox Day (organizer of the Rabid Puppy slate) admit in a comment on File 770 he would have included had he known about it at the time, and Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century Volume 2, a Heinlein bio that I saw Larry Correia admit in a comment on his blog would have been on the Sad Puppy slate had *he* known about it in time. Both books were well-spoken-of among non-Puppies and would have had a serious chance at a Hugo nomination.

    Instead, the Puppy Slates locked these works out of the Hugo Ballot. Because a slate doesn’t just hurt works on some “other side.” A slate hurts *every* non-slate work, including ones that the slate makers would have loved to see make the ballot if they had just allowed other nominators to put it on the ballot for them.

    And these issues would both have been the case even had nobody on either slate been contacted or asked for permission.

    For this reason I think slates are so toxic to the nominating process that I won’t tolerate them. I am very sorry for those authors and editors who were included against their will–and even for those who agreed without understanding quite how unfair the slate would be. I will read their work in the Hugo packet, and I will look forward to some future year when they make the ballot honestly and I can vote for them in good faith.

    But every slate work will be going below “No Award” on my ballot this year.

    And remember–the membership that lets you vote this year lets you nominate next year. I’ll be nominating and I hope you will also. No reason to make the Puppies life easy.