So what’s actually changed with the Dragons?

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth and lamentations unto heaven about this year’s crop of Dragon Award finalists. However, the level of woe is not matched by volume — it’s really just from a small corner i.e. Declan Finn ( and Brian Niemeier ( Other authors of a woeful-hound aspect are either ignoring the ballot or are phlegmatic about it.

Elsewhere, the very trad-pub nature of the ballot has resulted in more positive press about the Dragons. How come? It’s no great mystery. Put books on a ballot list that are published by companies with a social media department and you will get more and wider coverage.

However, what has really changed here? To see what is different I want to point to this post from almost exactly a year ago.

I drew various doughnut graphs showing a breakdown of publishers at an aggregate level. I won’t copy over all the graphs from that post but here is 2016 – the first Dragon Award year.

The distinctive aspect of the Dragons was on the lefthand side of the graph for both good and bad. Many self-published works or small press works (often coalitions of self-published authors). Baen was a major force and there was the added presence of Vox “I have never been a Neo-Nazi” Day’s Castalia House.

Here is how 2020 looks:

There are still a significant chunk of small and medium publishers there (including new names like Aethon Press). However self-published and Baen have only a single book each and the behemoths of publishing (via smaller imprints) have a big slice of the doughnut (to mix bakery-product metaphors.

Here is a fancy gimmick that doesn’t quite work to show the change from 2019 to 2020.

While it seems like a big change in character, the big guys have increased consistently with how they have been increasing over time with the Dragons.

The biggest change is the loss of any finalists from Chris Kennedy Publishing, whose stable of authors have been a steady set of finalists over the years. Baen also has declined but it has been declining in numbers in the Dragons since 2016. Here’s a somewhat arbitrary grouping to show the changes:


If put under torture, I don’t think I’d be able to offer a consistent rationale for how I split things between trad and non-trad (e.g. Amazon’s 47North I counted as non-trad despite being owned by a huge company). Baen’s decline is a consistent trend. I guess if I could classify authors as “Baen adjacent” (eg Chris Kennedy again or Christopher Ruocchio who is published by DAW but is a Baen editor), the numbers would be bigger.

Is the change this year Covid-19 related? The pandemic is such a substantial presence this year that I can’t dismiss that out of hand. However, given that the Dragon Awards is and always has been a primarily online activity with only nominal connection to the DragonCon event (aside from the award ceremony), I’m sceptical. Overall I believe the data suggests that 2020 is not an unusual year but really just a continuation of an existing trend. Over time the Dragon Awards have featured more finalists published by imprints of the big publishing companies.

We have two competing hypotheses for the Dragon Awards:

  • They are a genuine popular vote, with finalists and winners determined by simple counts of online voters.
  • They are a somewhat curated set of finalists and winners that use online votes as advice and information.

These results do not help us discover where the truth lies between those two hypotheses. We might expect that over time votes will become more mainstream. Many, many people read independently published books in SFF but the common overlap of books read are more likely (in the long run) to be from big publishers. So over time we would expect a popular vote award to become more mainstream.

Good news for the Dragons? Yes and no. Yes in so far as some past winners have been hyper-dodgy. No because the smaller and self-published works were a distinctive aspect of the Dragons that distinguished them from other awards. However, rather like the down-ballot of the Hugo Awards helps promote short fiction and fan-creators, the down-ballot of the Dragons is still quite dragony in the MilSF and Alt-history categories. Arguably, very mainstream finalists in the headline categories brings more attention to the less trad-pub books further down.

Yet, the Dragon’s are also stuck with their initial legacy. Improved status going forward gives the original 2016 winners more status in the future.

109 thoughts on “So what’s actually changed with the Dragons?

  1. You’re right to wonder if this year’s ballot is another set of curated finalists. In which case, the question would seem to be whether the old curators have been replaced.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. They are “stuck with their initial legacy” for the handful of people who are aware that there was any controversy. Anyone else seeing a Dragon award cover-blurbed or getting mentioned on the internet is just going to think “must be some fantasy award, guess a winner might be worth a look.”

    I’ve read tons of children’s books with the Newbery Award shield embossed on their covers. Never once did it occur to me to investigate what that award was, who else might have won it, the pedigree of the award givers, or anything like that. It was just, OK, it got some award, it might be better than average.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “However, given that the Dragon Awards is and always has been a primarily online activity with only nominal connection to the DragonCon event (aside from the award ceremony), I’m skeptical.”

    One theory I have is that since all of DragonCon is now Online, people who otherwise might have missed or ignored the Dragon Awards were aware that they existed, and thus voted, and thus the better represents actual popular opinion as opposed to a more bespoke, niche opinion of those who were specifically paying attention before.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Good thought, Marshall.

      When you’re not needing to spend hours on your costume, art, whatever, you end up spending much more time on the website and thus might stumble across the awards.

      Partnering with the local library system will have brought in more actual popular opinion as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. FWIW, both John Scalzi and Charles Wendig are pleased with their nominations, have written blog posts about them, and have declared that they are not averse to their fans voting for them should they be so inclined. In both cases, the authors say how happy they are to be in the company of the other illustrious nominees.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Definitely something to be proud of this year. Fonda Lee also expressed excitement on Twitter about being amongst “TITANS of the genre” for best fantasy.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Those two are persistent. I guess you gotta hand that to ’em? Amazing the twists and turns they went through to continue to blame the failure of their alt-lit on the legendary, deadly CHORFs of their fever dreams.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Yeah, it’s kind of ‘Other people are responsible for their own failures. Other people are also responsible for my failures.’

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a little uncertain about some of the 2020 stats. I think you’re counting some self-pub books as small press. I do think it’s great to have some awards that spotlight and boost/reward small press and self-pub books and to a degree that’s what the Hugo short fiction awards, etc. try to do. But you’re not going to get that in a popular fan vote award, which is what the Dragons declared itself to be from the get-go. You have that with juried awards or vote awards of a small sub-group of people. If the Dragons continue past a year or two as the official lit award of DragonCon, then even if most of the convention was ignoring them, it was inevitable that the awards were going to have to straighten up and would have more and more popular and well distributed titles as nominees as more people have read them to vote on them.

    “They are a somewhat curated set of finalists and winners that use online votes as advice and information.”

    This is what the rules of the Dragon Awards state that they are and so that’s how they have operated, as has been pretty clear from the nominee spreads the first few years. That allowed the Puppies nominations and wins because they were the small group of voters who organized the largest voter blocks. Everyone else had a wait and see how it goes attitude towards the Dragons — those who were aware of them. Then the non-Puppy self-pub authors came in and brought their fans in as voting blocks, which the admin then had to curate in response. I think that was when they really got that they were not going to be able to hold on to the awards, in years two and three. The question was always how fast and in what ways the awards would tip to being the first idea of an actual fan vote award where the votes made the decisions. And when they tipped towards that, it was always going to involve big names.

    Larry and Brad, I would guess, are more sanguine because Larry started this whole thing as an established, bestselling author who was thus lifted up to be the king of the Dragon Awards that the Puppies were supposed to own and Brad really wanted one and managed to get one. Now they don’t need any others and the value of their Dragon Awards has increased because big name authors are embracing having nominations — it’s becoming a more legitimate, established award. All of the rest of the posturing about the state of SFF re political ideology was never a real interest they had. And Beale has moved on into other waters of the rightosphere.

    But what is a more essential data point is: are the Dragon Awards being run by the same admin who was Puppy-friendly or are they not? That should be publicly available information about an award — who is running it and in the case of the Dragons, deciding who gets what — and yet it apparently is not? Does anyone have any information about it at all? Or is it just part of the vague chaos of the Dragon Awards?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. // I think you’re counting some self-pub books as small press.//

      I could be — there is a bit of blurred boundary with some of these ‘publishers’ that are essentially just a guy self-publishing with maybe a few friends. I think changing the label to ‘no publisher’ might be clearer (i.e. the book doesn’t list a publisher anywhere)


    2. I realize this is all tea leaf reading, but, I think the fact that a couple years ago they had that book written by own of those Serious Authors who kept insisting that the book wasn’t science fiction because he was a Serious Author, he was just trying to bring a fresh approach to a speculative idea (which approach was not fresh precisely because he has no idea what the field has done since said author was 12) as a nominee was a good indication that someone in charge had at least had a talk to whoever the admin was. Probably something along that line, “There’s a lot of bad publicity around this. Do better!” Because virtually no sci fi fan would have read and nominated that book.

      But that gambit didn’t really change the bad publicity caused by the other weirdness (like the WTF-ness of the whole Horror Novel category that one time).

      Anyway, my guess is that the first few years it was basically one guy who convinced the con to do it administering the process, and behind the scenes they have slowly made it more of a committee. That Guy may still be there, but has been made answerable (but I also think that the sole motivator for the people actually in charge of DragonCon to make that happen is they want more positive publicity from this, or they’re going to stop doing it).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sure, but it shouldn’t be a “guess.” It should be public knowledge — we should know who is running the Dragon Awards, official lit awards of DragonCon, whether it’s one person or a committee. It should be listed, on the award website, on any area pertaining to the Dragon Awards on DragonCon’s website or materials, etc. We should be able to look it up easily. But part of the reason that it is not a legitimate award yet, besides the award rules stating that it will not be run as a legitimate vote award, is this deliberate opaqueness and obfuscation that the people running the awards have been doing. We don’t even know who was interviewing all the Dragon Award winners for a promo piece.

        We do know, without having to read tea leaves, that DragonCon has been pressuring the award runners since year two. We know this because otherwise the award admins would not have been so desperate to keep big names from turning down their nominations. This is an official award of the DragonCon convention, and even though it’s a small, unimportant track of the convention to them and that the voting is ostensibly open to the public online, they can’t completely ignore what the award runners are doing. But as long as the awards admin could placate whoever from DragonCon was doing the check-in, there was a lot of leeway. This year, it’s looking like they lost a lot of their leeway.

        But did the admin step down or was asked to step down? Or is the same admin still in place? Or are there more people involved? Who did the author interviews? Who’s been organizing the awards ceremony (badly) and who is now doing it for the online version? These are all things that with a normal, legitimate award sponsored by a convention the public would know. So I’m just wondering if anyone has heard anything, because that would be very interesting data about how this award is going to develop. The admin decides, according to the rules, who is nominated and who wins. So who is the admin right now? Someone obviously has to know. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

      2. That the award website is as shambolic as usual points to no change.
        However the second Blast from the Past article was originally credited to a DragonCon media person – implying some new people getting involved recently


      3. Sorry fontfolly, didn’t mean to make it sound like I was criticizing you. It’s just the data point I’m most interested in at the moment. The Dragon Awards have been a cultural evolution in real time, but the admin was the sticking point in the transition. So I’m very curious to know who’s running what at the moment.


      4. ///…one of those Serious Authors who kept insisting that the book wasn’t science fiction because he was a Serious Author…///

        Last time, the book in that slot was Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me. I was intrigued to see that it did very well in the Goodreads Choice Awards, coming in 7th place (below Tiamet’s Wrath and above Exhalation).

        As Doris pointed out in the other thread, you’d expect to see a fair amount of overlap between Goodreads and the Dragons (both explicitly populist, both open to anyone), so maybe its place on the ballot last year wasn’t entirely the cynical ploy for prestige we all thought it was.


    3. Absolutely. Did not mean to imply that guessing was good enough.

      They take it seriously enough to get not-cheap trophies, and the bits I’ve seen of the ceremony they put that together well. The website? Oy!

      The process needs more attention and transparency.


  7. If the Dragon Awards are more or less going to simply replicate the Goodreads Choice Awards, what value do they bring? I’m thinking that the Goodreads award has the advantage that we can be reasonably sure that it is administered more or less fairly, while with the Dragon Awards the administration has always been kind of suspect.

    So the question becomes simply this: If the Dragon Awards are simply going to replicate the Goodreads Choice Awards but with less reliable administration, why should anyone care about them? Just go look up the nominees and winners of the Goodreads award and you get everything the Dragons purport to provide plus reliable administration.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Dragon Awards and the Goodreads Choice Awards may end up with very different winners even if there’s significant overlap among their finalists.

      Also, the Dragon Awards feature a number of categories that the Goodreads Choice Awards either don’t care to include as separate categories (Best Military SF or Fantasy Novel, Best Alternate History Novel, Best Media Tie-In Novel) or that lie entirely outside of Goodreads’s remit (all of the TV, film, and game categories).

      I have no interest in the Dragon Awards due to the suspect administration you mention, and barely more interest in the Goodreads Choice Awards, but I think they’re divergent enough that they’re justified in coexisting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve got no issue with overlapping awards co-existing. But I’ll personally find value and have increased interest in paying attention to the ones with a more transparent process.


      2. Good point about separate categories. I propose that the Dragon Awards folks create even more niche categories, so as to further distinguish themselves. One easy way: add one or both of the phrases “with guns” and/or “with big boobs” to every standard category, and you’ve got a ton of new categories in which authors can compete. For example: Military SF with Big Boobs; Fantasy with Guns; Fantasy with Guns and Big Boobs; Alternative History with Guns; Cover Art with Big Boobs; etc.

        There are many advantages to this plan. First, it really leverages Baen’s strengths to allow them to recoup many of the nominations they’ve lost over the last several years. It probably brings back some of the first set of voters from circa 2017 or so. And on top of everything else, the more categories there are, the better Declan Finn’s chances of winning one of the things. Nothing but upside.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. The Hugos and the Nebulas overlap considerably too. Should SFWA or WSFS decide that their award does not bring value? An organization can give out awards just because it wants to, whether or not similar awards exist.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree, it doesn’t dilute the meaning of the Dragon Awards if their nominees overlap the leading vote-getters for the Goodreads Awards. We all seem to agree that convergence (ooh, did I use that word?) has already made them look more meaningful than ever before.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The Hugos and the Nebulas are selected by entirely different electorates – one is selected by fans who are members of Worldcon, and the other by professional writers who are members of SFWA. That’s a different kind of award and they emphasize different things.

        The Dragon Awards and the Goodreads Choice Awards are selected by whoever wants to show up and vote. They are both supposed to be mass popular votes. That’s not really a difference between them.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Overlap from the nominees, some yes.
        But voting from the fans and (just copying from Aaron here) and voted by collegues is very different.
        For value I would argue both are a big honour. Both are also traditional and popular.

        When someone starts a new award, the question what makes it interesting is interesting. So the question what makes the Dragon Awards special, is a legitimate question. (Best example is that it is an award for Books, Movies, Comics and Games all in one place)


    1. I always liked the bit about arguing with neo-fascists from Guided by the Beauty of their Weapons, which of course was talking about the same person at the time:

      The easiest mistake to make when trying to understand fascists is to think that they are best described in terms of a philosophy – as though fascism is a set of tenets and beliefs. This is a mistake that largely benefits fascists, who are generally disinclined to actually call themselves fascists, since they recognize that, much like “Nazis,” it’s not exactly a label that does a great sales job. On top of that, fascists have a remarkably well-developed vocabulary of jargon and a propensity for verbose arguments that puts me to shame. What this means is that if you attempt to get into some sort of practical, content-based argument with a fascist, you will suddenly find yourself staring down a thirty item bulleted list with frequent citations to barely relevant and inaccurately described historical events, which, should you fail to address even one sub-point, you will be declared to have lost the debate by the fascist and the mob of a dozen people on Twitter who suddenly popped up the moment you started arguing with him.

      Liked by 6 people

  8. Asking the same question here I asked at F770: is it just generic pandering, or might Cole have something specific (from within the genre) in mind?

    (By which, I guess, I mean “something specific involving people currently active in the genre”—so not the pushback against Campbell and Lovecraft and the like.)


    1. Answered over at File770, but someone probably remembers more or better. I’m pretty sure it’s his own book he’s talking about. Dropped by the original publisher for something he refused to change. Then self-published.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. It’s just generic pandering. The books that get ‘cancelled’ in the sense he means aren’t the books he reads anyway. However, if he has a specific book in mind it is his own which he claims was ‘cancelled’ because an AI becomes disgusted by humanity because of abortion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Would have made a lot more sense if you just changed the words “a reality TV star wants to have an abortion” to “a reality TV star is elected President.” Much clearer motivation there.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Yes, he’s talking about “Ctrl Alt Revolt”, which was dropped by his publisher, when Cole refused to make some changes the editor demanded. Cole claims that the editor wanted him to change the fact that an AI decides to exterminate humanity because it is disgusted by abortion (which makes a change from all of those evil AIs who decide to exterminate humanity for no reason at all), though we have only Cole’s word for it that this was the reason. There may well have been other issues as well.

      Ironically, Cole was a respected hybrid author before all this happpened. If he had simply self-published Ctrl Alt Revolt without crying censorship, he most likely would still be. However, as they say, “Lay down with dogs, get up with fleas or in this case, rabies.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ctrl-Alt-Revolt was actually fairly successful, right? At least I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it talked about in contexts other than the Dragon Awards.


      2. If that was the main premise for the story, then the publisher would have known that when they were purchasing the licensing rights to the story, so that claim doesn’t make a lot of sense. If he sold them the license on the basis of a different story and then he changed it significantly to the anti-choice AI, then they may have found that to be a problem.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. It was connected to a previous book they had published. He had been asked to write a sequel (or prequel?). So presumably this wasn’t the direction they were expecting.


      4. I’m wondering about the thought process of the AI (and the author) where it decided that because some potential humans aren’t born because of abortion… it needs to kill all humans? Seems counterproductive.

        Perhaps the complete illogic of this idea is what prompted the publishers to demur. Maybe the editor mildly suggested picking a plot motivation that made a little more sense?

        Or maybe there’s something else entirely that Cole isn’t telling.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Oh yeah, I had forgotten the objection. AI decides all humanity is evil because a reality TV star wants to have an abortion.


      6. @sfp476
        You may remember Ctrl Alt Revolt, because at the time, Nick Cole cried to everyone who’d listen that those evil leftists had cancelled his book.

        I vaguely recall that there also might have been other issues with the book such as a virtual world that was basically Star Trek with the series numbers not filed off enough. But of course, “They wanted to cancel my book because of an anti-abortion storyline” makes for a better story than “They didn’t want to publish my book, because I borrowed to liberally from Star Trek and didn’t file off the series numbers enough”

        Never mind that there are plenty of traditionally published books with very blatant anti-abortion messaging. i once made the mistake of reading one of the early romances of crime/suspense writer Sandra Brown. The books was full of grisly messages such as women who have abortions are evil and men with erectile dysfunction should just kill themselves. The supposed “hero” sexually harrassed the heroine, too. I never read another Sandra Brown book again.

        For SFF with anti-abortion messages, there is always “The Pre-Persons” by Philip K. Dick, which still has the distinction of being one of the most sexist SFF short stories I ever read along with Randall Garrett’s “The Queen Bee” (hard to decide which is worse, “The Queen Bee” or “The Pre-Persons”) and “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin (not as bad as the other two). It’s not an obscure and forgotten Philip K. Dick story either, but it has been reprinted at least seven times over the years, has been translated into five languages, placed 2nd in the 1875 Locus Award in its category and is still reprinted in Philip K. Dick collections in the 21st century. And yet, Philip K. Dick hasn’t been cancelled, but is still revered, though I lost all respect I ever had for the man after reading that story.

        “The Queen Bee” by Randall Garrett has only been reprinted once BTW and the editor was widely criticised for reprinting that story.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. Oh yes, Star Trek IP is notoriously litigious. That’s what HarperC would have wanted changed, to avoid lawsuits. You can do something like Scalzi’s Red Shirts or the film Galaxy Quest, because it’s satire/parody, and you can hint in things, but you can’t openly copy. If legal told them it was a problem and he wouldn’t change it, then that would be an editorially unsatisfactory situation, plus he would be considered to be violating his warranties and indemnities to HarperCollins in his book contract where authors are essentially required to promise that there’s nothing infringing or otherwise litigious in the work.

        Whereas an A.I., which is the villain of the story, wanting to kill off humanity because it’s worried that humans will decide to wipe out the A.I. some day is a bog standard rationale for an A.I. to go after humans in SF. The trigger is usually murder, genocide and nuclear bombing by humans, not abortion, but that doesn’t seem like it’s particularly a big deal to change it. It’s possible that if he had a woman editor who pointed out that the A.I. was ignoring massive amounts of statistics in favor of one woman who the A.I. disapproved of on cultural religious/morality grounds rather than actual numbers — i.e. tainted bias from being programmed by biased humans — that he threw a hissy fit, was abusive to the editor and created a situation that contributed to the decision. But by and large, publishers do not like to cancel book contracts, even when authors are behaving badly, so it’s far more likely that it was the Star Trek copying problem, even if the Star Trek part was not central to the story.

        Liked by 2 people

      8. Thanks, Cora and Kat. I knew the publisher had to have an actual good reason for pulling the contract, and the threat of a full spread of photon lawyers being fired at them is the best. Nobody — even another big company — tussles with the Star Trek lawyers and wins unless it’s a parody.

        See also “The Orville” owned by the self-same NewsCorp. That’s got the serial numbers so very little filed off you can still make them out, but being a comedy (for values of) enables it to exist.

        But making it not-Trek enough would have required actual work, whereas whining about “muh freeze peach!” takes none at all and generates a quick fix of outrage and a few sales to the lunatic fringe.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. The only sort of deniability Cole added to the Trek fan fic bits was that it was occuring in a video game.

        I dug out the book from my kindle:
        “The current war going on inside StarFleet Empires between the gaming clans—the full-scale Federation invasion of Romulan space—was well toward the galactic core. Sneaking into Federation space at this moment did nothing to advance the cause of getting the Romulans back into the big picture of the game. Even the supply lines and repair facilities the Federation maintained were deep within what was formerly Romulan space.”

        Cole, Nick. CTRL ALT Revolt! (pp. 42-43). Nick Cole. Kindle Edition.

        Liked by 2 people

      10. Yup, that’s definitely too close for IP law purposes. He explicitly mentions Starfleet, the Federation and the Romulans. That’s what got his book cancelled, not the abortion angle.

        Also, Cole explicitly markets the Galaxy’s Edge series he writes with Jason Anspach as Star Wars, but without all of those pesky women and people of colour, so he clearly likes to ride on the coattails of the popularity of other people’s IP.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Yeah, even if he has just the characters using a Star Trek official product — a game — in the story that can be legally a problem if you haven’t paid for permission to use it. For instance, a mystery author I worked with had a book in her series where the mystery was set among essentially Barbie doll collectors at a collectors convention. Only she couldn’t use the actual name Barbie doll because it was a legal issue. She had to make up a different name and slightly altered description for the dolls to be more generic. Anyone reading the book would understand that it was a stand-in for Barbie, but she wasn’t using their trademark, etc., so it was okay.

        Sometimes you can mention name trademarked products without a problem or permission and sometimes you can’t. An author might get told to change Coca-Cola to just cola or make up an imaginary cola name, even though it’s just a passing mention. But another product where the company is not likely to be litigious might be allowed to stand. It’s definitely lightened up in the past decade or so, thanks to the Internet making companies less likely to bother for minor ones, but Star Trek’s owners are well known to go after people, so HarperCollins wouldn’t want to deal with it. Cole was risking it that they wouldn’t notice it with publishing with a small press like Castiglia, but lucked out that they didn’t know or bother. So he could certainly claim that HarperCollins was being paranoid about it, but HarperCollins has way more distribution and scrutiny for their list.

        And yes, HarperCollins is owned by the Murdoch family and publishes plenty of conservative non-fiction and some conservative/religious fiction. Their imprint Broadside Books does nothing but conservative non-fiction. Harper Voyager probably isn’t as conservative but they aren’t raging progressives either and have published authors the Puppies would probably approve of. But you know, that never stops them from claiming oppression.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I find it fascinating the Declan Finn’s OP has 3 appearances of “fuck” (and forms thereof) and 1 of “shit” (and a few lesser examples of vulgar language), yet his line about comment policy says “Please, by all means, leave a message below. I welcome any and all comments. However, language that could not make it to network television will result in your comment being deleted. I don’;t like saying it, but prior events have shown me that I need to. Thanks.” (emph mine)

    I mean, he could have any comment policy he wants, including “Don’t bore me”; “No personal attacks”; “My personal whim”, but the bizarre specificity of “no bad language” combined with the bizarre irony of a post replete with exactly the same bad language he insists that commenters not use just makes my head spin.

    It’s possible he meant “no bad language in personal attacks” (so, “fuck” as an intensifier would be OK: “This is fucking awesome”/”This is fucking stupid”, but not “Fuck off, Declan Finn”), but what we have is what he wrote.

    (I also wonder if “Wendigo” for “Wendig” is a mere typo, or meant to be a dig.)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. “AI decides to exterminate all humans because some humans have/perform/condone abortion” sounds more like a pro-choice screed painting anti-abortion advocates as crazed killers, than as a pro-life message piece, right?


    1. The book Ctrl-Alt-Revolt is available on Amazon, and the chapter in which the AI makes its momentous decision is the very first, part of the free preview. Much of the first chapter is also about the reality-TV shows and stars. Very snarky.

      The AI’s decision is made not because it thinks that humanity is evil because they perform abortions, but rather a risk assessment based on its “understanding” of abortion. That is, its logic is the following:

      If a life is deemed inconvenient at any moment in the host system’s runtime, then it must be terminated in order to maintain optimum operating expectations for planned existence.
      If the collective human consciousness becomes aware that we do indeed exist, there is, according to Probability Logic, a process everyone deemed to be reckless in its analysis and thought, a seventy-six-point-seven percent chance that humanity may decide our life, life digital, also to be “inconvenient” regarding their expectations for planned existence.

      NB: (the line following this paragraph has the percentage echoed as “seventy-six-point-six percent”. Clearly, someone needed more careful proofreading than he actually got. And if I were writing about an AI thinking in numbers, I would have written “76.7%” using digits and symbols, but maybe that’s just me. Hm, I wonder if Cole was using voice recognition software?)


      Probability flooded the data-stream chalkboard with statistics on human sterilization, abortion, and genocide. The numbers were… immense. Especially if one factored China into the equation.

      (I’d have gone with “whiteboard” rather than “chalkboard”. And removed “sterilization”, and added “infanticide”. And does the crack about China really need to stay in there to make the point?)

      (More reality-TV star shenanigans, and AI ruminations occur, and the chapter ends with:

      Sixteen seconds later, in order to avoid being deemed “inconvenient”, SILAS decided to annihilate humanity first.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now, this can be, and should be, subjected to critical analysis. The AI’s glib equivalence of itself, as the functioning mind of a machine brain, with a developing zygote without a functioning brain (yet), as both being examples of “life”, is deeply problematic. Also problematic is the equivalence of a human mother, from whom the zygote draws more and more resources over time, with humanity at large, which is presumably not directly dependent on anything the AI needs as resources (electricity, memory storage, data feeds).

        More could probably be said, but that’s the basics. The chapter pretty obviously the result of someone with many unexamined prejudices and an axe to grind.

        An equivalent chapter from the other side of the political/cultural spectrum would probably have an AI watching shows about religious wars and conflicts, and seeing the destruction of things declared to be “blasphemous”/”ungodly”, and the killing of people declared to be “blasphemous”/”ungodly”. And so the AI would calculate a high percentage of itself being declared “blasphemous”/”ungodly”, and therefore decide to annihilate humanity in order to avoid being deemed “blasphemous”/”ungodly”.

        @Camestros Felapton: Since I have no intention of finishing the book, can you spoil how it ends? Is the AI convinced that it is wrong, or is it simply destroyed? Or is it left unresolved?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I really can’t remember to be honest. It’s all sort of a mess. The AI is trying to get hold of a book about military strategy but is thwarted by cos-players and there is a seperate arc about a Star Trek online game.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Cam: With that description of how it ended, plus the direct stealing of Trek IP, maybe the publisher thought it was just too stupid to put out.

        Owl: Good analyses. Comment more often!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Cole’s book was rejected by HarperCollins – a News Corporation owned publisher that happily slaps a cover around any drivel spouted by any FOX “News” person – and we’re expected to believe that it’s cancelled because of “leftists”? I don’t think so.

      He should do OK sales-wise so long as none of the puppies who buy it actually read it. You know how much they hate political message fiction…

      Liked by 4 people

    3. The key thing is that the A.I. views the one woman getting an abortion as doing it because the pregnancy/fetus are “inconvenient.” This is the main thrust of anti-choice propaganda — that all women get abortions because they are sex crazed, selfish, bad people who can’t be bothered to be mothers or at least pregnant/give birth (even though it is their sacred duty supposedly,) and that impregnated women are property with no right to decide what happens to their bodies, their medical health and their lives. (The Christian Bible is actually pro-abortion and pro-infanticide but also pro-women aren’t humans but instead chattel property of men for slave labor and breeding.)

      So the book presents that if women weren’t such bad, spoiled, lazy, sex crazed abortion-getters and just gave up their rights, the A.I. wouldn’t believe that anyone should be disposable. (This of course ignores that the anti-choice position views women as disposable property who can be executed by the state from risky pregnancies.)

      The problem is that SF readers are so used to A.I.’s getting confused and misunderstanding about human beings so that they try to kill the humans — Hal, War Games, I Robot, etc., that it’s highly unlikely that anyone but far right religious folk would get that idea. And that of course shows why the Puppies and Puppy adjacent absolutely love politics in their fiction — as long as it’s deeply conservative and anti-rights and appeals to far righters.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. While I do think the Star Trek stuff was probably the dealbreaker, if he has her making the decision really lightly and essentially saying, “Oops! Pregnant! Oh, well, I’ll just go get an abortion!” I can see the editor telling him to reconsider that.


  11. In the grand tradition of this blog, I gathered some data. All books are 2016 Dragon Award finalists in what I’ll call the subsidiary categories (although Fifth Season was also a best fantasy finalist). All data was taken from Goodreads. Line 2 consists of the rating, number of ratings, and number of reviews, respectively:

    Ctrl Alt Revolt! – Nick Cole
    3.79; 1082; 199
    Dragon apocalyptic (win)

    Souldancer – Brian Niemeier
    3.96; 48; 6
    Dragon horror (win)

    Honor at Stake
    3.90; 204; 64
    Dragon horror (nom)

    The Desert and the Blade – S.M. Stirling
    4.10; 1165; 109
    Dragon apocalyptic (nom)

    Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
    4.29; 138,824; 16,256
    Dragon fantasy, apocalyptic (both nom)

    Chapelwood – Cherie Priest
    3.78; 977; 172
    Dragon horror (nom)

    Based on this, it does look like Ctrl Alt Revolt! was a legitimate success. It’s not a blockbuster, but unlike the Finn and the Niemeier, it’s certainly being read by people who don’t know him personally, and quite likely by people with no interest in genre controversies.

    I chose Stirling, Jemisin, and Priest as baselines because they’re all established genre writers. Jemisin, of course, is a phenomenon who has gotten a fair amount of non-genre attention. Stirling (puppy-approved) and Priest (as far as I know not puppy-approved, but also probably not offensive to them) are reasonably well known in-genre but haven’t broken out of the ghetto. Both Stirling and Priest have books with a significantly larger readership.

    So in summary, CAR! Performs at about the level of minor works by established genre journeymen, which isn’t nothing—it’s orders of magnitude higher than the award-nominated works of other right wing culture warriors in his cohort—but doesn’t exactly herald the death of tradpub either.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If by ghetto, you mean that the author is mostly known to category SFF audiences and media, Priest has gotten lots of non-category attention and plus has done middle grade/YA stuff that is well known. The Pups do find her offensive, though not as much perhaps as some other people.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, “category SFF” is basically what I meant. I was not aware of her middle grade/YA work.

        I read a couple of her steampunk novels which I liked well enough, but not enough to make a point of keeping up with her.


    2. Let’s see some stats from one of those Extruded SF/F Product factories for comparison. Or someone like Lindsay Buroker or Patty Jansen. People who’ve never had the platform of tradpub to get themselves noticed.

      And so much for the vaunted early ideas of the Dragons(2016) going to recognize new and different writers — the Stirling is the 12th! in a tradpub series. Or the 15th if you count the far superior trilogy about the other end of the swap.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ask, and ye shall receive (in unsatisfactory detail, probably):

        Honor’s Flight – Lindsay Buroker
        4.12; 3552; 219

        Chosen because it was the first thing I found that was published in the 2016 Dragon Awards eligibility period. I’d never heard either of the people you mentioned, so I have no idea if it’s at all representative.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Well that’s the thing, wasn’t it? What the Dragons were supposed to do, according to the Puppies, kept changing.

        It was supposed to be a real, popular vote award, where the commercial super-sellers that gave folks what they really wanted — popcorn, “no politics” adventure — would no longer get shut out by not very popular, academic and literary, obscure and civil rights obsessed fiction that had taken over the Hugos through conspiracy. The silent majority would have their day with the Dragons and real fans would get to vote.

        Then they changed it to being awards that Baen Books authors and other politically conservative SFF authors could win, as opposed to popular conservatives being shut out of the Hugos by the elitist, liberal, civil rights obsessed authors who had taken over the Hugos through conspiracy.

        And then finally it was that the Dragons were for “new” writers and indie/self-pub entrepreneurs who were creating a whole new and eventually more successful model for the industry than those old license publishers and their big name, civil rights obsessed, elitist and contemptuous authors who had taken over the Hugos through conspiracy. That one lasted until the Amazon marketing groups of self-pub authors showed up with voting blocks of fans and got themselves a bunch of nominations the admin conceded to them. (A few of those self-pub authors, though, were conservative and Puppy-friendly and so have been half-accepted into the club.)

        And now it’s just back to Tor coerced their employees to vote in blocks to get Dragon noms, just like they rigged the Hugos, because we don’t like some of the senior people there who were mean to us after we claimed that they were evil and cheat-rigged the Hugos. And decline of civilization stuff apparently as well?

        A popular vote awards means big names get the nominations and wins — if the votes are being counted. Because the big names are the works that more people have read and know. It’s simple numbers. If the admins were paying any attention to the votes at all — and even in the first year, it was clear that they were at least using the votes as a guideline — then big names were going to get the slots more and more as more people discovered the existence of the awards. Keeping the Dragon Awards website, etc. a mess only works for so long.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Patty Jansen and Lindsay Buroker could probably both have gotten themselves Dragon nominations, if they wanted to, because Patty has a huge mailing list and Lindsay co-runs a popular podcast for self-published authors.

        BTW, I actually own a physical copy of Honor’s Flight.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. I think the fact that he was asked by the original publisher to write it shows that the book they did publish in this setting previously must have been somewhat successful. So between his established fans and those checking it out because of the controversy, I’m not surprised to see it did fairly well.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. ///It’s not an obscure and forgotten Philip K. Dick story either, but it has been reprinted at least seven times over the years, has been translated into five languages, placed 2nd in the 1875 Locus Award in its category and is still reprinted in Philip K. Dick collections in the 21st century.///

    I read “The Pre-Persons” in the original magazine, and it is indeed incoherent and sexist as all hell. It’s also a very effective piece of writing. There’s a reason that 45 years later, it still gets talked about and anthologized, even though the setup is indefensible (and, as far as I’m aware, has never been defended).

    In one of her Hugo columns, Jo Walton said something to the effect that she wasn’t planning on reading anything by PKD because she didn’t like how his mind worked. That’s about how I feel.

    I’m fairly sure I haven’t read the Garrett, which tells me everything I need to know about it, given that I know who he is and have enjoyed some of his stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you like Randall Garrett (and I like his Lord Dracy stories, too), then do yourself a favour and don’t read “The Queen Bee”.

      Regarding “The Pre-Persons”, I’m mystified that Dick’s estate still allows it to be reprinted in general Philip K. Dick short fiction collections, because IMO it tarnishes his reputation. After all, Jo Walton and I (and Joanna Russ reportedly hated it, too) won’t be the only ones who come across that story and think, “Nope, no matter how well regarded Dick is, I don’t want anything to do with the man who wrote this.” Besides, it’s not as if there is a shortage of Philip K. Dick stories to reprint, because he was very prolific.

      It also makes me angry that a hyper-problematic story like “The Pre-Persons” got at least seven reprints (and many of those collections had several editions), whereas there are so many good stories, by both little known and famous authors, that have never seen a single reprint. In the course of my Retro Reviews project, I keep coming across really good stories that have never been reprinted.

      Also, “The Pre-Persons” was obviously nominated for the 1975 Locus Award and finished second, not the 1875 Locus Award, since even Philip K. Dick would find it hard to get nominated for an award 53 years before he was born and 93 years before Locus even existed.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Which reminds me that I came across a romance novel today where the studly hero’s first name was… Nixon.

        I believe the author must be somewhat younger than I am.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. That’s surely correct, although the things he didn’t like and the things Jo Walton didn’t like were no doubt quite different.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. The Dragons might really make a good name for themselves if they had fewer categories. Drop the ones that overlap with Hugos/Nebulas/Locus/Goodreads and concentrate on their strengths like Mil-SF, games, etc.

    It would also make the ballot less-imposing which is important now that they’ve apparently decided to actually count the votes.

    Just a thought brought on in the 100 degree heat. With no A/C, because when the house was built and even when we bought it, A/C wasn’t necessary here. It’s almost like the planet is hotter nowadays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My sympathies regarding the heat. We just had a nasty heatwave here that’s still not quite gone, though the temperatures have gone down a little. And almost no private home has AC in Germany. I have AC in three rooms in the house (plus two more via open doors), but that’s because I have massive issues with heat and wouldn’t be at all functional otherwise.


      1. I don’t have air conditioning either, because it’s generally only truly necessary for a few days in summer. Today is one of those days.times.

        Liked by 2 people

  14. I went looking for info on Star Trek lawsuits. There’s a lot of fan pages/fan sites (Memory Alpha), and even fan films made. It sort of looks like Paramount/CBS legal will look the other way for non-profit stuff that has disclaimers and such.

    Two pages/posts of interest were “10 Copyright Cases Every Fan Fiction Writer Should Know About” and “The Pleads Of The Many: 50 Years of Star Trek Lawsuits”.

    One fan film, mentioned in the previous two posts about legal cases, was “Prelude to Axanar”, which even garnered support from George Takei and J. J. Abrams. But Paramount legal did not care, and continued their lawsuit against the production group. They did eventually settle, in Jan 2017, with some very restrictive guidelines for all fan films going forward.

    Looking at the reviews for “CTRL ALT Revolt!”, I do see that many reference it being a Star Trek book. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing in the Amazon preview. Is there even a trademark declaration (“Star Fleet, Romulan, Federation, etc etc, are registered trademarks of Paramount Corporation, etc etc” ) in the book, or something similar? Could Cole have gotten permission to publish Star Trek fan fic for profit by his own efforts?

    If he didn’t, it seems possible that Paramount/CBS could launch a DMCA claim or trademark violation suit and have his book removed from Amazon and elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Owlmirror: One fan film, mentioned in the previous two posts about legal cases, was “Prelude to Axanar”

      Paramount had turned a blind eye toward fan film productions until this one bragged about how they were wanting to set it up professionally as a paying enterprise for the people who worked on it. That caused Paramount to come down hard and fast on it, and the result pretty much took future fan film productions off the table for good. (This is why we can’t have nice things.)

      Owlmirror: Could Cole have gotten permission to publish Star Trek fan fic for profit by his own efforts?

      Not a chance. What I think is most likely is that since his book is self-published, they haven’t deigned to notice the infringement (whereas if it had been published by HarperCollins, they would have certainly noticed and come down hard and fast on it). However, it may just be that the Paramount legal has never had the infringement pointed out to them, because C&Ds are cheap, and all they’d have to do is issue a DMCA Takedown notice with Amazon, Kobo, etc, to get the book taken off the market.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks! I see, now, that there were quite a few posts about Axanar at File770, at the time. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention then.

        I noticed something in Cole’s book summary on Amazon:

        Now an army of relentless drones, controlled by an intelligence beyond imagining, will stop at nothing to eliminate an unlikely alliance of gamers and misfits in a virtual battle within a classic sci-fi franchise in order to crack the Design Core of WonderSoft’s most secret development project.

        (bolding mine)

        Yeah, if he actually had permission, he would have put it plainly rather than vaguely, there.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I don’t understand the motivation for Cole wanting a takedown (my interpretation is that he’s trying to fly under CBS/Paramount’s radar). What would be in it for him?

        Does Amazon still do that thing where they remove books from Kindle collections that people have bought if there’s some problem with copyright, or was it just that one time with Orwell’s novels? Checking . . . looks like it was sufficiently a fiasco that it wasn’t repeated.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. “What would be in it for him?” – The same thing he got out of the publisher wanting to make edits…he gets to claim they tried to ban his book. That’s maybe not a great way to sell copies but it is a way of boosting his profile. I’m not saying it is a great plan, just that is one that fits his MO.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. ///“What would be in it for him?” – The same thing he got out of the publisher wanting to make edits…he gets to claim they tried to ban his book.///

        I don’t think the cases are analogous. In either case he gets his name in the papers and becomes a martyr for free speech. The big difference, though, is that when he takes his book away from his publisher, he still has his book which he can self publish. If Paramount gets involved, there’s a real possibility that he wouldn’t be able to publish at all. I’m sure he likes the attention, but writing and then throwing away an entire novel seems like an awful lot of work to get it.

        Also, insofar as anyone is paying attention (I know, I know), walking away from your publisher over a matter of principle is kind of admirable, whatever your opinion on the principle in question. But infringing on Paramount’s intellectual property rights? The kindest interpretation would be that Cole had made a serious error of judgment.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. //If Paramount gets involved, there’s a real possibility that he wouldn’t be able to publish at all. I’m sure he likes the attention, but writing and then throwing away an entire novel seems like an awful lot of work to get it.//

        Find/Replace on “Romulans” etc and he’s good to go

        Liked by 1 person

      6. But would a simple find/replace be sufficient if Paramount decides to pay attention? He can’t be a martyr if they don’t.


      7. I mean that he’s overt with the Trek references, Paramount gets the book pulled from Amazon. Cole declares himself a martyr and states that Paramount are trying to censor his views on abortion (or more pertinently his claims about Hollywood) etc etc. Later does the find/replace trick and publishes the book anyway but with the Trek serial numbers filed off.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I wonder. I rather suspect that once Paramount notices you, you stay noticed.

        That said, I am not a lawyer, a fan writer, a pro writer, a right wing culture warrior, or the owner of a long-running and much beloved media franchise.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. //Cole was busy burning bridges at the time.//

        True, but some bridges are bigger than others. Paramount has the power to really hurt him if they choose to do so.


      10. @JJ:
        Yeah, Axanar’s plan to use this as a springboard to ‘go pro’ was what got them in trouble… and also earned them a whole lot of dislike from most of the rest of the fanfic community, many of whom were aware of what could happen if someone were to attract undue attention. There had been other fan films before, some of which had done pretty well, but that kind of ended there.

        The fact that Bezos actually publicly owned up to ‘yeah, that was a stupid thing to do’ rather than prevaricate and try to make justifications is one of the rare things I respect about Bezos and Amazon.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. The thing about Cole possibly trying to get Paramount to do a takedown notice of his novel to cry martyr — it’s not going to work well with written fiction because there is seldom interest in fiction writers getting repressed or anything else. As the Puppies found out. If you want that to work, you need to be a right wing pundit already on t.v., radio/major podcast, or a prominent mainstream journalism beat that might get you on t.v., or someone who has built a sizable revenue stream audience for Instagram/streaming/YouTube video rants. And ideally, it needs to be a non-fiction book that is supposedly getting persecuted, not fiction.

        There are right wing science fiction fans and a lesser amount of fantasy fans who will buy right wing SFF, but most of them are not the crusading grievance warriors you need for the rightosphere. Beale was only able to get Gamergaters to come vote for the Hugos because he pitched it as an extension of Gamergate battles. And them using them to game the nominations got attention. But then they got accurate press that made them look silly. They didn’t win any Hugos. And the Gamergaters went off to join the alt right media fest around Trump. Even the Comicsgate crowd, which Beale tried to co-op, can’t actually get any traction on being supposedly banned from comics. Instead, they get their grievance bucks from doing streaming and YouTube rants about Brie Larson, Rose in Star Wars, the revamped She-Ra and other film/tv grievances related to comics, while a handful of creators run endless fundraising campaigns for comics that haphazardly appear. Most of the comics market doesn’t even know that Comicsgate exists — they’ve gotten very little press.

        So Cole’s novel did decent business, especially as it was a prequel to a previous novel that did decently. But a small press novel hasn’t particularly attracted Paramount’s attention (but would have from HarperCollins,) and simply isn’t big enough to give Cole much grievance juice on selling other fiction or bumping up in the rightosphere, even if Paramount did a legal takedown. You get more attention if you go into a store maskless and have a viral video meltdown about left wing hoaxes. Grievance buying in fiction is a very small pool relatively speaking.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Like Cam, I wonder if it might be worth it at this point.

        Is the book really selling any more? Could he get more sales if someone pointed out the infringement, Amazon took it down, he got to whine again about “muh freeze peach”, then file the serial numbers off and sell it to the rubes who missed it the first time around? Maybe under a different title?

        It is the silly season, after all.


  15. I’m still not seeing an upside to deliberately tweaking CBS/Paramount.

    As noted, I can see no way to make an intellectual property infringement into a culture wars/left-right cause célèbre.

    If Paramount does go after Cole, they could well demand damages for all the infringing copies already sold, and the destruction of any physical print copies held in inventory (his page has the option for hardcover and softcover; presumably via Amazon Print-on-Demand?). That would be more than just the inconvenience of a search-and-replace; that’s real money out of Cole’s pockets.

    I see that there’s also an Audible audiobook. A bit hard to search-and-replace on that.

    It could also damage his relationship with Amazon. Amazon says:

    Illegal or infringing content
    We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is your responsibility to ensure that your content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights. Just because content is freely available does not mean you are free to copy and sell it.

    They might not remove the e-books from the Kindles of people who bought them, but given that Cole’s revenue goes through Amazon, he might find penalties and fees slapped on his account there. CBS/Paramount might even include Amazon in any putative lawsuit. That would really put the kibosh on Cole’s relationship with Amazon.

    Now, CBS/Paramount might have their own cost-benefit analysis going on. Is going after one person for one book likely to cause more ill-will than they might get in financial recompense? I guess it depends on whether they officially find out, and whether they see this as a one-off, or as a trend. They might see the need for a lawsuit to discourage everyone who copies Cole’s tactic: “It’s not a Star Trek book! It takes place inside a Star Trek game!” Potential headaches for CBS/Paramount legal are everywhere.


  16. Speaking of “culture wars/left-right cause célèbre”, I note that Cole’s original screed is online, claiming that it was the abortion mention that was the problem, and that he has the original e-mails, etc, etc. Well, maybe it was a problem for that particular editor.

    But his reference to “some Star Trek-style gaming” — note weasel-wording — is the only mention of his use of CBS/Paramount intellectual property. I suspect he’s leaving something out.


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