Will Sad Puppies Fade?
I think people’s expectations is that with new nomination rules and the size of the 2015 No Award vote that the Puppy campaigns will fade out over time. Some people will carry on with the angst and resentment but in general people will move on to other things.
However what will happen if the Puppies score a victory of some kind? This is harder to answer. First of all the Puppies are prone to claim retrospective victories of one kind of another. Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies claimed that the multiple No Awards in the 2015 Hugos were actually a victory for them as their intent is to destroy the Hugo Awards and/or it established some kind of precedent or gave Vox Day some kind of moral permission. Larry Coreia has claimed that the failure of Sad Puppies 2 was also some kind of victory in so far as it ‘proved’ his point about the Hugo voters and a bias against right wing authors. Lastly Vox Day (again) has claimed the Best Novel Hugo for The Three Body Problem was a victory for Rabid Puppies because Vox had publicly preferenced the book first and because it won by a narrow margin against The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Sword.
However, I think it is safe to say that each of those victories were effectively (and affectively) hollow ones. The Puppies clearly didn’t feel or act particularly victorious, in so far as they were emboldened by those events it was by a desire to avenge the outcomes rather than celebrate them with further victories.
Consequently I believe the Puppy campaigns will not be emboldened by any kind of token or if-you-look-at-it-this-way kind of win. For example, imagine the Puppy campaigns nominate Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest* and it goes on to win on the basis of both Puppy and non-Puppy votes – will the Pups feel emboldened? Well it may demonstrate a way to achieve political power in the Hugos by the best means a cohesive minority of voters CAN achieve power – by becoming King Makers i.e. by choosing were to apply their votes among otherwise broadly popular candidates and thus disproportionately influencing the result beyond their numbers. The problem with being King Makers in this mode is that their brand is toxic (so winners will tend to eschew their supporter rather than show gratitude) and it doesn’t achieve any of their objectives. The Rabid’s want to fight SJWs, the Sad’s want to restore balance (in the Fox News sense) and both want to promote people they approve of. Populist movements do not survive making compromises with the establishment.
The kind of victories that embolden the Puppies are ones that have the right AFFECT – the ones that make them feel like that their enemies will feel upset – that is a bit convoluted but that is the best way of describing the emotional stakes. The outcome that Puppies need to fuel the fire is one that they see as being upsetting to the ‘CHORFS’ or ‘SJWs’ or Tor books. An obvious case in point was the sweep of nominations revealed last April – while a tactical disaster for the Puppies (peaking too early, mobilising non-Puppy votes) it certainly emboldened them even if the scale of the sweep of nominations was probably unexpected.
So what sort of things might extend the life span of the Puppy campaigns? I should note these aren’t what *I* would regard as meaning the Puppies had ‘won’ but rather what Puppies themselves will feel happy about.
- No Tor works or staff nominated. Note it won’t matter why (e.g. if Tor editors or authors publicly renounce nominations etc)
- Ancillary Mercy not getting nominated. Again it won’t matter why (e.g. a strong field of other nominations, Ann Leckie overtly asking for people not nominate it**)
- Something they imagine to be SJW-head-explody being nominated. The most likely candidate is John C Wright’s Somewither book or Michael Z Williamson. The anthology There Will be War X edited by Jerry Pournelle as a best related or a new story from it (mainly reprints I think) might also be seen as head-explode or discombobulating (published by Vox Day’s company but edited by a notable author)
- A stealth puppy nomination – this is an unlikely scenario. It works like this: a person has their work nominated, possibly not even on a Puppy slate per-se and POST nominations aligns themselves with the Puppy campaign. The most likely case of this would be a veteran-author who has issues with the current state of play. I think the odds of this are very low.
Nominations that will be hollow victories (i.e. they will make noise about them but it will all be a bit meh)
- They nominate something everybody else is nominating. For example Andy Weir for a Campbell Award.
- They get multiple nominations but primarily in very low voting categories. For example a Puppy sweep of Best Fancast will be hailed by the Puppies as a victory or as brilliant tactical move that will force the SJWs (or whatever acronym they have fixated on) to No Award/Burn Down/Nuke from Orbit that category thus destroying it forever and ever until next year.
- Winning a category with something they regard as head-explodey. Unlikely but yes, a victory of that kind will embolden them. The more notable the category the better. Best Fancast probably not so much, Best Novel big time. However it needs to be a designated head-explode win. Compromise is poisonous to populist campaigns.
- A designated relatively popular ‘SJW’ work (or person) of some kind ending up below No Award because of Puppy votes. A case of ‘see how you like it’. Unlikely.
- A super-stealth Puppy victory. Similar to the above, but the person doesn’t announce how great the Puppies are until after they win.
Awards that will be hollow victories
- Adopted post-nomination Puppies winning something. For example the Three Body Problem was an adopted puppy that the Rabid’s claimed as their own despite its broad support by non-Puppies. This is the easiest way to claim a victory.
- Adopted pre-nomination Puppies winning something. For example, if the Pups nominate Seveneves*** because of its bold practical engineering aspects and the human genetics/races aspect of the final part (which looks a bit SJW-head explodey but isn’t) then there is a good chance it will get a nomination on the basis of Pup and non-Pup votes. In the final ballot it is not likely to win (you have to love it to like it and that is not a good basis for winning over non-fans who haven’t read it already) but it might if there is a significant and disciplined Puppy vote for it. A book like Seveneves which is likely to engender a very mixed response is a good candidate for a minority faction to act as Kingmakers. However, this isn’t going to embolden the Puppies much as it doesn’t tap into the populist energy they need. Deals, compromises, strategy are a poor fit with the Sad Puppies and for the Rabid Puppies this kind of victory doesn’t help any of their objectives.
- Forcing somebody off the ballot by virtue of toxic endorsements. This occurred unintentionally in 2015, with people like Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet withdrawing in protest at being on slates they didn’t ask for. Sad Puppies 4 has overtly said they won’t be asking people’s permission to be on their list (which makes sense if it is just a list but which is unethical if it is a more overt slate/campaign) but ad Puppy . Rabid Puppies may well do something like this just out of mischief – the idea being that then those nominees come under pressure for people opposed to Vox and the Rabids can shout ‘come see the repression inherent in the system!’. Nasty and trollish but not emboldening for them.
How to react? I think people picking and choosing and reacting in a diverse and not even consistent way but with a degree of common purpose is the best meta-strategy. The Sad Puppy campaign is populist and it can’t survive compromise and is self-limiting. That doesn’t mean it is harmless but it requires people to weather the storm.
The Rabid campaign is more inherently trollish – it seeks to make its opponents into puppets the way toxic trolls like to do i.e. infer that if they do X their opponents feel obliged to do Y and that therefore they have somehow hacked the human psyche and they have become puppet master who can make you do Y. the dilemma is that overtly not doing Y is also a bad move (because then they’ve ‘made’ you not do Y and also ‘made’ you not act in your best interest which maybe was Y), ignoring them (Do Not Feed the Trolls) is a bad move with more persistent and damaging trolls as it tends to cause them to act more outrageously, and finally, actually doing Y is a bad idea because then your behavior is predictable and can be manipulated. This dilemma is why trolls think they are brilliant Xanatos-gambitting super-geniuses who can win because of multiple victory conditions. The right response is doing what people did last year – a non deterministic mix of an inconsistent bunch of stuff on the general theme of really not putting up with stupid troll-games. People should not ignore Vox Day’s campaign but everybody needs to remember that they are not OBLIGED to react in any specific way to whatever he does.
The final issue is Baen Books. Arguably much of the puppy narrative dates back to the 2007 Hugo Awards. The year before Jim Baen, prolific editor and founder of Baen books had died and there was a campaign to have him awarded Best Editor Long Form Hugo and for Baen books to get some other wins or at least nominations. Participation in the Hugo Awards was at an all time low (it got better prior to the first Puppy campaign) and the publishing crisis was on the horizon. In the end the campaign was a damp-squib and to add insult to injury perennial Puppy hate figure, Tor editor Patrick Nielsen-Hayden beat Jim Baen for the editor Hugo.
Baen with a number of right-of-centre authors (although far from exclusively right of centre) and with a reputation as highly independent publisher has received a lot of praise from Puppies. Notably Larry Corriea (SP1 & 2), Brad Torgersen (SP3) and Sarah Hoyt (SP4) have all been published by Baen. Head of Baen, Toni Weisskopf did not overtly align herself with the Sad Puppies but did in 2004 publish a long essay at Sarah Hoyt’s blog that covered many key puppy themes including the notion of SF Awards as being part of the US culture wars.
Baen may act long term as lingering reservoir of puppy-ideals either within its own online community (Baen’s Bar) or simply by social networks of like minded authors. However, as 2015 showed, as a commercial entity there is no long term benefit to Baen to be associated to closely with a toxic campaign.
*[They might not, as he said not supportive things about slates and he is published by Tor]
**[I don’t believe she has said that]
***[This is an example, in reality Vox Day didn’t like Seveneves and it isn’t likely to support it]