The story so far…
In 2015, Larry Correia’s Sad Puppy campaign targeting the Hugo Awards was handed over to Brad Torgersen. Torgersen put together a bigger slate of nominees with several categories having four or five entries listed. The Sad Puppy campaign was initially supported by far-right blogger, sci-fi author and publisher Vox Day but after a disagreement on tactics, Day revealed his own Rabid Puppy campaign. Day’s slate was largely the same as the Sad Puppy slate but with additional entries, many from his new (2014) publishing venture Castalia House.
The combined slates together swept multiple Hugo Award categories when the finalists were announced in April of 2015. This led to a major backlash fuelled by objections to the slate tactics, the poor quality of many of the Puppy slated finalists and the extreme politics of Vox Day. The Puppy campaigns were characterised by many people in the media as akin to the GamerGate culture war/harassment campaign that had been running within the world of video games since 2014. This comparison was made not just by critics of the Puppies but also by supporters in right-wing outlets such as Breitbart and The Federalist.
Day’s personal animosity towards key figures in fandom associated with Tor Books (specifically John Scalzi and Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden) as well as the long-standing rivalry between Tor and Correia’s publisher Baen Books, helped fuel a parallel campaign by right-wing fans against Tor Books in protest against comments made by a notable Tor employee about the Puppy campaigns.
The 2015 Worldcon saw a massive increase in supporting memberships as a consequence of the controversy. When the final votes were revealed at the Hugo Award Ceremony, multiple categories had no winner due to voters picking the ‘no award’ option over works pushed onto the ballot by slates.
Aggrieved, the Sad Puppies pointed to the apparent injustice of some notable people losing to ‘no award’, including the widely regarded publisher of Baen Books Toni Weiskopff. Meanwhile, Vox Day claimed the results as a victory as, according to him, he had hoped the Rabid Puppy campaign would lead to multiple Hugo categories being burned to the ground by ‘no award’.
Both the Sad and Rabid Puppies vowed to return for the 2016 Hugo Awards but the distance between the two campaigns had increased.
Meanwhile, America was gearing up for the 2016 Presidential Election. In the polls, the Democratic Party front runner was Hillary Clinton who was facing a hard-fought challenge from the more left-wing candidate Bernie Sanders. The Republican Party had a wide range of potential nominees but the initially assumed man-to-beat Jeb Bush was faring poorly and to many people’s surprise, property tycoon and media celebrity Donald Trump was gaining support among Republican voters.
Welcome to 2016
On January 2 2016 a rally of several hundred supporters of a coalition of right-wing militia groups was held in the town of Burns, Oregon. The rally included members of the so-called Three Percenters militia group and was ostensibly a protest of a conviction of two local landowners who had set fires on federal land. Speaking at the protest was Amon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy who had led a tense standoff between militias and law enforcement as part of his campaign against the Federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014.
Towards the end of the protest, Amon Bundy announced his intent to lead an occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge buildings, approximately 50 kilometres out of town. Along with several armed groups, Bundy took over the federally owned buildings. The standoff would last for weeks but despite law enforcement avoiding direct confrontation with the armed groups, one of the protestors was shot and killed after a car chase.
It was an inauspicious start to a year.
For those looking for ill-omens, the death of David Bowie on January 10 2016 was significant. Bowie’s long and mercurial career had been underlined by the release just two days earlier by his final album Blackstar. His death at 69 felt far too soon but in April of the same year, the death of another pop-culture icon, Prince, at age 57 added to a feeling of a year marked by ill fortune.
Internationally, the Syrian Civil War continued as a multi-factional conflict. As well as the violence of the Syrian government against its own citizens, the role of long-standing opposed regional powers of Turkey, Israel and Iran caused fears of the conflict escalating into a broader regional war. The role of the extremist Islamist group ISIS in the region was also inspiring lone-wolf terrorist attacks further afield. To add to the powder-key element of the conflict, the USA and Russia were at odds militarily in the war and the prospect of the conflict expanding into a direct war between the two superpowers put the two nations closer to war than they had been in decades.
A further consequence of the violence in the Middle East was an increased number of displaced people seeking refuge in other countries. This flow of refugees was met by increased nationalist hostility in Europe, partly fuelled by the ongoing financial fallout and government austerity measures from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Terrorism was also helping quasi-populist right-wing Islamophobic nationalist parties electorally in many European countries.
In February 2016, the Conservative Party-led government of the UK announced that the planned referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union would be held on 23 June 2016. The so-called Brexit referendum was an attempt by Prime Minister David Cameron to both placate and sideline the Eurosceptic wing of his own party as well as the growing electoral threat of English nationalist parties such as UKIP.
Meanwhile, there were still books to read
2015 had been a loud and noisy year in science fiction but amid the culture war conflicts and psephological inventions, books were still being written and published. Even fans distracted by daily news reports from the frontline of the Puppy conflict found time to read and (perhaps more importantly) argue and debate about what they had read.
The Best-of-2015 articles and recommended reading lists summing up the year had a cornucopia of works from established and new authors. On-going series such as Ann Leckie’s Radch Trilogy had new entries including Charles Stross adding to his long-running Laundry series with The Annihilation Score. The chattering fans in the comments at File 770 were getting excited by newcomer Natasha Pulley’s clockwork fantasy about predestination The Watchmaker of Filigree Street . Other books being recommended included Jim Butcher’s new steampunk series The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy Western Karen Memory and Kai Ashante Wilson’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. Larry Correia was also getting noticed in the ‘Best Of’ lists with his own new fantasy series for 2015, Son of the Black Sword which eschewed the stereotypical epic fantasy setting of a quasi-middle ages Europe for a world based on pre-modern India .
However, two books, in particular, were receiving a lot of attention.
The first of these was Becky Chambers’s A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. The book in many ways was a conventional story of a spaceship and its crew off on an interstellar adventure. Chambers though had but added emphasis on the story being about a found family working through their differences in what was a departure from the more grim tone of many contemporary books in SFF. What was more notable was the route through which the book had been published. Chambers had used the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter in 2015 as a way to get enough funding to spend time finishing her novel. Initially self-published, the popular support for the novel led to Chambers getting a more traditional publishing deal for the novel. Like Andy Weir’s The Martian, Chambers had found other routes to publishing success created by how the internet could connect fans and authors. Notably, Larry Corriea and even earlier, John Scalzi had also used internet platforms to connect directly with fans to produce debut novels in science fiction and fantasy which had segued into deals with traditional publishers.
While Chambers’s novel took a turn away from the emotionally harrowing aspects of the genre, the other novel receiving even more buzz than most was the first novel in N.K.Jemisin’s new series: The Fifth Season. The book starts with the intentional starting of a planet-wide cataclysm and the murder of a child and goes on to follow three characters at different times as they experience variously a world plunged into a tectonic disaster, child-enslavement and exploitation by a brutal regime of a subset of the population with strange powers. The author has stated that the novel is fantasy but the story weaved both fantasy and science-fiction tropes together which itself lead to fans embroiling themselves in the unresolvable discussion of where the difference between the two sibling genres lie.
Mixing three different viewpoints and three different styles of writing, The Fifth Season was the sort of novel that invited debate and this was further fuelled by the story finishing with the kind of twists more common in short fiction than multi-book fantasies.
Let the lists begin!
More than ever, fans were paying attention to what had been published in 2015. With the Hugo Nominations set to open in early 2016, people were keenly aware of the events of the previous year. While there were no overt moves for a left-wing version of the Sad Puppies 3 campaign, fans on multiple platforms were talking about and collating what they had read the previous year and what was eligible in which category. The fear was that Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies would once again sweep the Hugo Categories and the one weapon his opponents had was lots of sci-fi fans and their love of books.
However, the strategy of mobilising lots of fans to collate what books they liked was not a strategy confined to the opponents of Vox Day. Elsewhere the fourth iteration of Sad Puppies was underway and it would prove to be a very different kind of hound than its kennel mates.
Next Time: The Ironic Tale of Sad Puppies 4