An Open Letter to Sad Puppies IV


As the science fiction community mutters “I thought MidAmericon said nominations would open in early January” with baited breath, I note that certain fascist pricks have begun to ramp up their performative chortling. So I figured “why not write a mildly trolling open letter to someone else entirely?”

Ms. Paulk et al:

I note with some bemusement your efforts to reform the Sad Puppies movement from its oft-criticized 2015 form, stripping away its overtly conservative trappings, widening it to a ten-item recommendation list, et cetera. By and large, I have to admit, these seem like, if not strictly speaking good things, at least less bad things. So thank you for your efforts to be less odious than your predecessors. It’s genuinely appreciated. That said, there’s one rather large issue that you don’t seem to have addressed, and that I’d like to raise.

Simply put, why are you doing this?

I mean, I see your nominal explanation on the site - to increase Hugo participation. And while I think your assessment of the field is rubbish (science fiction, at least as a literary genre, that being the primary focus of the Hugos, is in no way “a field loved by millions,” and five thousand voters is absolutely massive given the current state of the publishing industry - and not just SF/F publishing), sure, I guess that’s a reasonable motivation. What’s rather less clear to me is why on Earth you’re adopting a brand that’s primarily known for its previous decision to actively ally with a fascist bully to do so.

Yes, I’m talking about Vox Day, who you so eloquently dismiss as “not our circus, not our monkey” and suggest that people “talk to him about whatever problem you have with him.” But, well, I have talked to him about many of the problems I have with him, and anyway, my problem here isn’t with him, it’s with the Sad Puppies movement that you’re actively positioning yourself as the direct successor to and that movement's past relationship with an abusive, bullying troll motivated primarily by his passionate vanity and even more passionate hatred for women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT people.

Because let’s be very clear here: in both 2014 and 2015, your predecessors in running Sad Puppies made an active and conscious decision to ally with Vox Day. Indeed, that’s pretty much what your movement is best known for at this point - getting spectacularly hijacked by him last year such that you didn’t actually have a meaningful impact on the vote because his sidecar movement outperformed yours such that anyone who hadn't looked closely at the precise nature of the fan politics mistook your movement ofr his. That’s your best-known accomplishment: allying with a sadistic troll who proved better at your own game than you were.

Now, of course, you’re not wrong in your basic sense that the sadistic troll’s moment has passed. Vox’s main talent in life is that he can marshall around five hundred people. Of course, given that Vox is steeped in GamerGate tactics, this means five hundred accounts, not five hundred actual flesh and blood people who might plausibly show up at MidAmericon II and affect any business that actually takes place at the con. In other words, we all know that E Pluribus Hugo is going through the business meeting this August, and that this will mark the end of his domination of the Hugos, if it even lasts that long. So yeah, if you want to have any impact on the Hugos whatsoever come 2017 you need to change gears, and rebranding as a “recommendation list” to lobby for the literary mediocrities you so enjoy is a lot more sensible than continuing to hitch your wagon to Vox.

No, what i don’t understand is why you’re still using the name of a movement whose great contribution to science fiction fandom was turning the Hugo Awards over to his machinations for a minimum of two years. An accomplishment that the actual Hugo voting last year demonstrated has left you completely and utterly despised by the overwhelming majority of fandom. And this rather begs the question… why do you think this is going to be remotely effective in expanding the field? Why are you running your campaign to broaden the tent under a banner whose sole contribution and claim to fame is its staggering divisiveness?

On a similar note, I have to say, it doesn’t really scream “we’re entirely sincere about inclusion” when you say, on your own About page, that “SF is a big tent: we don’t want to kick out anyone, even writers of bad message fiction that makes puppies sad.” I mean, if you don’t want to kick people out, you know, maybe don’t follow that declaration by immediately identifying a population your group is literally named in opposition to, you know? It kind of suggests that maybe you do want to kick people out, but you don’t want to be criticized for it, so you’re just sort of mumbling platitudes without conviction while still flagrantly being the people who were stupid enough to ally with Vox Day.

Because at the end of the day, that’s the real problem here. Everything you’ve done since launching last summer has looked like a staggeringly disingenuous attempt to distance yourself from your existing supporters without actually alienating any of them. You’re making a grand show of saying  “no, we’re not the people who recruited a lunatic who actively doxes anyone who gives him a bad review to help try to hijack a literary award” while trying to retain your existing support. I mean, you’re not even trying to build bridges with the people who previously opposed you; you’re just engaging in cheap theater to try to pretend that their objections aren’t true anymore.

And sure, maybe the superficial objections aren’t. You’re not providing a slate, just a “list of recommendations.” You’re not explicitly allied with Vox Day, you’re just still catering to the people he brought in. But these weren’t the reasons people despised the Sad Puppies. They were just the most blatant pieces of evidence that the Sad Puppies were a bunch of jerks. And what you’re blatantly and conspicuously failing to do is to actually give the slightest suggestion that A) you recognize that the Sad Puppies have in the past been a bunch of jerks and B) you’re not anymore.

But this doesn’t actually get to what seems to me the most fundamental puzzlement over why on Earth you’re doing this, which is this: last year, you had no impact beyond being the launching pad for Vox’s Rabid Puppies, who outnumbered you. As, of course, did the anti-Puppy voters. And your strategy this year seems set to avoid winning over members of either camp. So of three factions you’re the smallest, and are wielding the shambling corpse of a toxic brand in an attempt to win over neither Vox’s supporters nor your previous opponents.

So what, exactly, is the point of you?


Phil Sandifer

P.S.: You know the low participation in your recommendation threads makes them really vulnerable to entryist tactics, right?


Penn 4 years, 12 months ago

Sad Puppies IV sees to me to be an attempt to gather the consensus of the community as to the best writing of the year. I can't figure out the way that their stated goal isn't redundant to the Hugo nomination process itself. It appears to be a way to pre-nominate the nomination process itself, except under someone else's control and with a smaller audience.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 12 months ago

Indeed, a voted on recommendation list for a fan award is kind of inherently perverse.

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Kate 4 years, 12 months ago

It's still a ()^)*^ing slate, and will be treated with the same contempt as last year's slate was.

What a bore!

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Kate 4 years, 12 months ago

I hope and expect that this next iteration of the discredited, defeated movement will be like a fart that the perpetrator thinks will be a mighty trumpet blast, but comes out as a tiny peeping sound.

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Kate 4 years, 12 months ago

PS There's a cute little girl puppy with a bow in her, er, hair! I may be ill.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 12 months ago

Don't worry; they're actually goggles.

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Kate 4 years, 12 months ago

So they are (although I read it at first as "goggies"). I thought perhaps a token girl had been added. Perhaps the three small puppies are meant to represent the three women who are fronting the campaign... no, they're three boy puppies, according to the artist. Can one simultaneously be a puppy and a "Bitch Queen"? All very adolescent.

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Al Martorano 4 years, 12 months ago

For my money, the Hugo's 2004 decision to ignore three Whedon scripts in favor of awarding the dramatic short form award to Gollum's odious MTV acceptance speech (for best CGI character--a category almost surely invented just for him) in which he calls Dobby the House-Elf a "fucking faggot" is why I've never been impressed when Who wins one. What were they competing against, a car commercial? (I think you've mentioned this on the blog at some point Phil...I can't remember where.)

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 12 months ago

Yeah, I suspect that was the product of a lot of people having a lark and then being surprised when it turned out a lot of other people had the same lark. I don't think much of anyone was happy about that outcome, and it remains one of the handful of genuinely embarrassing Hugo choices.

But there's still relatively few years when Dramatic Presentation has gone to something undeserving, even if it did go to Doctor Who a few too many times. (Waters of Mars in no way deserved it, and probably one of the S1-3 Moffat episodes should have lost to Battlestar Galactica; likely Girl in the Fireplace to Downloaded.)

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airboy 4 years, 11 months ago

Briefly - the Hugos at one point in time meant good, exciting writing. Over the last decade the Hugos have been Trufans (note your focus on those who attend Worldcon) voting for boring message fiction.

Your understanding of the difference between the Sad and Rabid groups is lacking. How exactly would the Sad Puppies group prevent the Rabids from forming their own group and encouraging others to vote in a different direction?

The readership of SF is much broader than the trufen attending Worldcon.

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Seth Gordon 4 years, 11 months ago

“over the last decade the Hugos have been Trufans... voting for boring message fiction”

Titles and authors, please. At least ten.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 11 months ago

The last decade of Best Novel winners included Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, The Graveyard Book, The City & The City, and The Three-Body Problem.

That's a damn fine list of winners. I maintain that anyone complaining that the Hugos have been going to unworthy winners with any sort of regularity is, quite frankly, full of shit.

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seanohara 4 years, 11 months ago

Of course the Hugos go to "boring message fic." That's what science fiction is. Has been ever since H G Wells decided to write a satire of the Belgian Congo with Martians as the Belgians and England as the Congo. The idea that Ancillary Justice and The Windup Girl are any more egregious examples of this phenomenon than Starship Troopers and Stand on Zanzibar is so preposterous that anyone who makes it clearly has never actually read the Hugo winners of the 1960s.

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Hypo-Calvinist 4 years, 11 months ago

"...never actually read the Hugo winners of the 1960s."

No, I think they've just internalized the messages of the earlier stories. If you don't realize that you are wearing rose colored glasses, it's easy to call everyone else out for not seeing the world in its "true" color.

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Tom Galloway 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, yeah, there's kinda a focus in Hugo voting by those who attend Worldcon. That'd be because the Hugos were created and have always been awards voted on by members of Worldcon (or WSFS to be technical). Something the Pups fairly consistently get wrong is that the Hugos are attached to Worldcon, not Worldcon is attached to the Hugos.

That's usually followed up by the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously claiming that the Hugos have lots of prestige (often in a sneering manner ala "The Hugos claim to be the most prestigious SF award") but for some extended period they've been awarded to crap and so don't mean anything anymore.

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Camestros Felapton 4 years, 11 months ago

Well observed. It is
1. the Hugos are prestigious
2. The Hugos aren't prestigious anymore
3. Awards are pointless
4. It is is just a popularity contest
5. The award winners aren't popular
6. The Puppies should be winning Hugo awards and it isn't fair that they haven't
7. Sad Puppies not winning proves that there is a bias against conservatives
8. Sad Puppies were not conservatives because some nominees were not conservatives
9. Sad Puppies is about celebrating pulp (Larry C)
10. It is a SJW lie by terrible journalists that Sad Puppies is about pulp (JCW)

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steve davidson 4 years, 11 months ago

I think one of the saddest things about this whole running sore is that the misunderstanding about what the Hugos are, how they run, how and who gets to vote, originated in ignorance rather than being deliberate.

Sad because it means that most of the puppy-affiliated come from a non-fannish background and are now giving themselves excuses for never engaging.

And I think one of the sickeningly funniest thing about it all is - you can't find a straighter, more directly enacted version of democracy in action than within WSFS; it's an UNincorporated literary organization. Why? At least partially so that there is no high ground for political influencers to seize.
The franchise is extended to EVERYONE. Governance is extended to EVERYONE. You think something needs to be done or addressed? Go do it. You want official sanction? Write a proposal, go to the business meeting, present it and have it voted on.
Monied influences have been reduced to next to nothing: surplus earnings from Worldcons are routinely donated to future Worldcons and other fannish enterprises - no strings attached.
The institutional prohibition against campaigning is a direct result of maintaining the egalitarianism that is inherent in WSFS (and Fandom). Why no campaigning? Because it is recognized that some members of the community can avail themselves of high degrees of influence, should they so choose. It was recognized that fandom needed to be in bed with business (publishers, etc), but also recognized that seeming to favor one business over another (say by bloc voting for a publisher's works) would quickly destroy relationships with every single other business not so favored.
When it comes right down to it, there is one political environment in which people get what the puppies claim they want.
But of course they want a slight change to that dynamic. They want to control it. Sorry. Better minds than theirs have spent decades perfecting a system in which that ain't gonna happen.

If I get half a breath, I think I'm going to recruit some fan historian writers and produce a series on how and why fandom works the way it does; not a history so much as a "here is how and why we've arrived where we have".

Final thought: It is STILL very important (IMO) to ensure that puppy slates gain no traction again this year; outsiders are watching - outsiders who enjoy joining a fight only if they know they can win. IF puppies succeed in getting a win this year, it will be a signal that the fight may be worth joining.

I've stated that I'm doing the "no slate works" on my final ballot again this year I am also urging anyone who might be nominated this year to do what Jo Walton, Adam-Troy Castro and others have done - to publicly announce that they repudiate slates and ask that their works be removed from such when they are so included).

There is every indication that the puppy slates this year will include works that ought to be on the final ballot. Getting nominees to repudiate slates is the only shield that voters will have against having a hard decision to make.

Note for the puppy-afflicted: telling everyone what I am doing and explaining why is not the same as campaigning, no matter what the voices in your head are saying.

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LostSailor 4 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, Kate, et al.! Why are you doing this?

We explicitly told you to go away after last year. We slandered you, labeled you racists and Nazis in the press, so why aren't you obeying our dictates? I mean you're only lobbying for "literary mediocrities" that we sneer at the way we sneer at you, so why bother?

You say you want to be inclusive and not kick people out, but you can't say you don't want to kick people out, that's only something we get to do right before we kick them out; unfortunately you don't seem to go. You're not even trying to build bridges by completely capitulating to every demand of your moral and intellectual betters, people who will always vehemently oppose you and your existence.

So what exactly is the point of you, as a human being, let alone a writer or SFF fan?

Begone! Begone, I say!

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 11 months ago

It was hardly slander. The actual movement that succeeded last year - the Rabid Puppies - made no effort to pretend that it did not exist to advance the political goals of Vox Day, who is, by any reasonable definition, a racist jerk.

Which is the crux of it. At the end of the day, the Puppies movement is a bunch of pathological liars who have been all too happy to carry water for racist bullies. And you honestly can't say that about the Hugo Awards before you lot came over to shit on them.

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LostSailor 4 years, 11 months ago

Attaboy, Phil. Way to build bridges (or is it just cheap theater?) and bring people back into the fold! I'm sure the "pathological liars" will all listen to you now...

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, not really trying to build bridges with a bunch of lying fascist sympathizers. More trying to discredit them completely.

Now fuck off.

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