Debarkle Chapter 3: Part 1 Overview 1880-2010

Epic sagas need a summary of the pre-saga history. This one is a bit too long for the opening crawl text of Star Wars, so if it gets too dry, imagine it is being read by Cate Blanchett in the style of the first Lord of the Rings film.

Part 1 of our Debarkle saga is eleven stories about the past. Most of them take place this century but some of the precursors to the events in our saga take place in the Twentieth Century. I can’t hope to do justice to the full breadth of science fiction’s history but I will be looking at selected events from that history that have repercussions to later events. What follows in this chapter is a whistle-stop tour over many decades up to the early 1990s to just briefly touch on some elements of the past that will re-appear later. We’ll touch briefly on the roots of early fandom but mainly highlight some parts of US history that will be important later.

There is no fixed start to the history of science fiction. There is no point at which people haven’t invented fantastical stories. In English literature, we can point to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or before that Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World but other candidates for the ‘first’ exist. So why pick 1880 as a starting point? This is a political story as well as a story about a fannish kerfuffle. In particular, while the Puppy Kerfuffle had a significant international dimension, it was an event that revolved around American politics.

By 1880 the Reconstruction era in the post-Civil War South was over. It was a decade in which the USA managed to have five different Presidents but also began the process of electrification and stepped further down the road of eventually becoming a global superpower. It was also a time in which advances in steam-powered sea travel were leading to even greater immigration to the USA, particularly from southern and eastern Europe.

For our story, 1884 marks the birth of one of the more idiosyncratic candidates for the founder of science fiction: Hugo Gernsback. Born in Luxembourg, Gernsback emigrated to America in 1904 to pursue a career as an inventor in the field of electronics and radio devices. That career would lead him into publishing as well as writing fiction. It was his role as editor of Amazing Stories that would lead him to be regarded as a seminal figure in shaping American science fiction and also American science fiction fandom.

Just as science fiction has no unique starting point, neither does fandom. For example, in 1891 The Royal Albert Hall in London held a “Vril-ya Bazaar”[1] for devotees of the popular-at-the-time book by Edward Bulwer-Lytton entitled The Coming Race — a fantastical tale about a subterranean civilisation of telepaths. However, for our narrative, the relevant iteration of the development of an organised science fiction fandom in the United States, Gernsback’s Science Fiction League is an important pre-World War II example that spawned off-shoots in the UK and Australia. We will return to this history of organised fandom in the next Debarkle chapter.

In world politics, the first half of the twentieth century saw the decline of the powerful Empires of the nineteenth century accelerated by World War I, economic depression and the rise of nationalism. The Russian revolutions saw the rise of the first Communist nation and conceptual shift in world politics to ideological conflicts. In Western Europe political groups combining nationalism and militarism co-opted the mass-movement politics of socialist parties as counter-movements. While in Japan, a similar extreme nationalist ideology fuelled territorial expansion and new imperialism.

In the US, the 1920s saw a resurgence of white supremacist movements, including a new version of the infamous Ku Klux Klan. Policies promoting systemic and overt racism against Black Americans led to further disenfranchisement[2], particularly (but not exclusively) in the former Confederate states. The Democratic Party in the “Solid South”[3] exploited these policies to maintain political power. This was part of a long pattern of political racism which had included violence to undermine democracy. In 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, Southern Democrats used mob violence to overthrow the town government[4]. The ‘Red Summer’ of 1919[5] was followed in 1921 by the Tulsa Race Massacre[6] led to massive destruction and “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” [7]

Immigration policy in the US also attempted to enshrine a specific view of race for the country. The National Origins Formula used quotas as a means to limit immigration from southern and eastern Europe[8]. Using the census of 1910 as a baseline, the quota mandated that immigration from a given country could be no greater than 3% of the population of that background currently in the USA. As a large number of Americans were of Protestant Northern European descent, the numbers of people allowed to immigrate from Northern Europe were much higher. Immigration from many Asian countries had already by restricted by earlier laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act[9].

More positively, the 1920s also saw the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which established the rights of women to vote[10].

World War II marks a political and cultural boundary between the two (unequal) halves of the Twentieth Century. For our narrative, it was a defining period for many of the influential science fiction writers. The war was framed as an existential struggle against the unambiguous evil of the Nazi regime and also led to technological innovations in computing and nuclear weapons. The mass murder of civilians as an overt ideological policy was not an innovation by the Nazis but the horrific extent and systematic nature of the Holocaust re-shaped post-war attitudes on racism and eugenics.

In the aftermath of World War II, America emerged economically and culturally dominant but in a nuclear rivalry with the Soviet Union. The 1950s saw not only the anti-communist Red Scare aimed at rooting out communist sympathisers within politically or culturally powerful positions but also the less famous but more damaging (in terms of the number of people impacted) Lavender Scare targetting homosexuality[11].

Post World War II also saw a decades-long fight for civil rights by Black Americans. Protests against school segregation led to multiple legal rulings and counter-protests by white supremacists to maintain segregated education. In 1957 President Eisenhower deployed federal troops to ensure that nine Black children could attend their school in Little Rock Arkansas[12] despite sustained attempts to stop them by protestors and the state government. The Montgomery Bus Boycott[13] and other forms of direct action against segregated business were met with a counter-reaction that was often violent. The murder of 14 year old Emmet Till received national attention, as did the subsequent acquittal of his two murderers[14].

In US party politics the post-war period led to a long period of ideological re-adjustments. Both the Republican and Democratic parties had their own progressive and conservative wings. Positions on the role of government, social-welfare, military spending, and civil-rights did not split simply along party lines in the 1950s. The massive cultural change and trauma (Cuban Crisis, the JFK assassination, the MLK assassination, the Vietnam War, the peace movement…) didn’t change that over night. The civil rights movement and subsequent legislation in 1964 and 1968 were passed by bi-partisan votes when consider by political party. However, Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ would mark a shift in the political balance within both parties.

The 1960s also saw a marked shift in immigration policy to the USA with the abolition of the racist National Origins Formula[15]. While this was a substantial reform, the new laws also prohibited gay people from emigrating to the USA.

Ronald Reagan’s 1976 challenge to President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party nomination for president marked a major attempt by the conservative wing of the Republican Party to gain control. Unsuccessful in that election, Reagan would go on to win the nomination in 1980 and then win the presidency twice, marking a high point electorally for overt modern conservatism. Although beset by a series of political scandals (in particular Iran-Contra which somehow managed to touch on nearly every aspect of Reagan’s approach to foreign policy)[16], Reagan proved to be electorally popular and after two terms was succeeded by his Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Bush Senior became president at a remarkable point in the twentieth century — a century which had not been lacking in remarkable points. Post-war US foreign and military policy had been defined by the Cold War but with the reform and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the status quo changed utterly. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war led to the Gulf War, the first major post-Cold War military conflict by the US[17]. Bush followed policies aimed at America and American business being the dominant force in the post-Soviet world. Bush also enacted bi-partisan liberalisation of immigration laws with the Immigration Act of 1990[18], and also signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990[19].

Bush Senior’s tenure proved to be unpopular with the right of his party and his candidacy in 1992 was challenged by Pat Buchanan in the primaries[20]. The electoral landscape was further complicated by the independent candidacy of the eclectic populist Ross Perot. Perot’s 1992 campaign was a mix of economic nationalism and novel ideas (such as electronic ‘direct democracy’) but in terms of overall votes, it did surprisingly well for a third party with 18% overall but with higher concentrations in Maine and in Utah. However, Perot’s votes were too widely distributed to win even a single vote in the USA’s Electoral College system.

At age 18, with his first science-fiction writing credit for an ongoing radio drama, Brad R Torgersen casts his vote in 1992 for Ross Perot.[21]

Next Time: yet another potted history as we run rapidly through the history and past conflicts of Worldcon and the Hugo Awards.



72 responses to “Debarkle Chapter 3: Part 1 Overview 1880-2010”

  1. Minor Corrections: “Epic sagas” not “Epic saga’s.” (Remove apostrophe from first sentence)

    “In 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina,” not In 1898 in Wilmington North Carolina” (insert comma between Wilmington and North Carolina).

    In the United States, the second World War is usually called “World War II” not “World War 2.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “As the majority of Americans where from protestant Northern European descent were much higher.”

    I think this one needs, err, some clarification. Is it two sentences that have collided, or one sentence with important bits missing?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cam:

    Regarding immigration: In the 1910s or so, a man named Berman moved from a tiny town in Russia to New York. A few years later, his half-sister, her husband and their children joined him (what is called “family migration” or “chain migration” by those that oppose it). Berman’s nephew, a rather weird boy, got into school early when his mother lied about his age, but he eventually made good. You can find all the details in Isaac Asimov’s autobiography.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Andrew beat me with the comment about Asimov’s family immigrating when the did.

    I wanted to thank you for mentioning the Lavender Scare.

    I was a little disappointed you didn’t mention the attempt by certain SF editors to blackball anyone who wrote gay positive stories in the 50s, and how Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Palmer slapped down that attempt with the publication of “The World Well Lost.” Because I think it is an excellent example of proto-puppy activities in the SF community.

    Liked by 6 people

      • The editor who was central to the effort to organize the blacklist was Howard Browne of Fantastic magazine–if you need more keywords for finding relevant information.

        Roy Cohn’s contributions to the Lavender Menace AND the Red Scare is almost always relevant, so I probably wouldn’t have called you on it.

        Liked by 4 people

        • It’s the line linking Cohn to McCarthy, Reagan, Roger Stone and Donald Trump that makes him hard to not include (& if we count Angels in America as SFF then also as a character in a genre work)

          Liked by 6 people

    • Reading about it now, I hadn’t realised what a mess his campaign was but he still got a big chunk of votes. A better campiagn by Perot and a weaker campaign by either Bush or Clinton and a lot of luck and some better electoral college strategy (i.e. picking which states to focus on to maximise chances) and maybe he could have won. Very unlikely but also the least unlikely third party challenge since WW2


  5. “Born in Luxemburg”

    Wikipedia has it as “Luxembourg”. The spelling without a “u” is the correct German spelling, and with a “u” is the French spelling. For whatever reason, the English-writing world follows the French convention.

    “As a large number of Americans where of protestant Northern European descent”

    Should be “Americans were of”. I think “Protestant” is usually capitalized.

    “in the America’s Electoral College system”

    I think that should maybe be “in the United States’ Electoral College system” or “in the USA’s Electoral College system”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You probably mean that “Luxemburg” is the correct German spelling (without the “o”) and that the correct French one is indeed with the “o”, i. e. “Luxembourg”. Of course if you want to be hypercorrect it’s “Lëtzebuerg”. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m going to indulge some pedantic punctuation concerns, in conjunction with a tiny pedantic semantic distinction — because I can, whee! Let’s start with the old adage that the name “United States” was construed as plural before the U.S. Civil war, and as singular afterwards: I believe that to be roughly accurate. At minimum, it’s been always construed as singular all my life, e.g, always “the United States is”; never “the United States are”.

      Now for the pedantic punctuation. In English, the possessive of a singular noun is formed by adding apostrophe plus “s” irrespective of the singular noun’s ending letter (including, notably, the letter “s”), e.g., Charles’s marriage. Possessive of a plural noun is formed by adding “s” plus apostrophe, e.g., dogs’ breakfast.

      So, I expect that the phrase “in the United States’ Electoral system” ceased to be grammatically correct around 1865, and “in the United States’s Electoral system” has been correct since then.

      Before someone counter-quibbles that the British slang idiom meaning complete mess (omnishambles, etc.) is actually “a dog’s breakfast”: You’re right. Single dogs may dine, but my point is that so might a pack, just as packs of puppies may whine, equally as may a single, bedraggled pup.

      In case it is useful, I’m also a founding member of the Hyphenation Society, a grassroots-based, not-for-profit, locally-owned-and-operated, cooperatively-managed, modern-American-English-usage-improvement association.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. 1. What happened to Chapter 2? Are you saving it for the second Chapter 5?

    2. Epics have to start with an invocation to the muse. (Sing, muse, of the anger of Correa…) Hey, I don’t make the rules!

    3. “Hwaet!” is also an option.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. “Bush Senior became president at a remarkable point in twentieth century — a century which had not been lacking in remarkable points.”

    This might be a nitpick, but I’d put a ‘the’ in front of ‘twentieth century’. I had to read the sentence twice to get why I tripped on it. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I didn’t exspect you to start with the political points. So thats why 1880, of course.
    Re: Ku Klux Klan, there was of course the Superman radioshow, were Superman fought the Ku Klux Klan, an interesting Konection perhaps.
    Also the time that during the Second Worldwar, some nazis wanted a fight with Jack Kirby. His reaction was let them come, and some cluless comicgaters really claimed he would have been on their side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And a number of people put that Superman radio show as the start of serious decline for the Ku Klux Klan. Not only did it portray them as the bad guys, but it actually demystified them to the general public and showed what self-important assholes they were. (‘Grand Dragon’?) If LARPing had been a thing at that point, that’s what they would have been compared to.

      Basically, the radio show didn’t make the Ku Klux Klan look bad, it made them look like self-aggrandizing fools. They weren’t cool. And suddenly a lot of the next generation of potential inductees was a whole lot less interested…

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Bush Senior’s tenure proved to be unpopular with the right of his party and his candidacy in 1992 was challenged by Pat Buchanan in the primaries.

    I remember a right wing SF novel of the middle 90’s referring to Bush Senior as an “Apparatchik” and realized that Buchanan’s politics were more into SF than I thought at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect a lot of the right wing of the party never forgave Bush Sr. for actually working with the U.N. on Kuwait and then standing down once the Iraqi forces were pushed out in accordance with the U.N. declarations at the time.

      The same people then cheered Bush Jr. on when he lied his way into getting to ‘finish the job’ and got the U.S. forces stuck in a quagmire and helped set the stage for Iran becoming even more of a regional power.


      • The interesting part to me is that section of the right that didn’t cheer on Bush Jr but in part because they hated Bush Sr so much.

        It’s not a possible exercise to do, because most weren’t super online at the time, but I would bet the Sad v Rabid distinction would hold if you went back and looked at whether a person was cheering on Bush Jr or muttering darkly about him but from a paleo-conservative angle


  10. (This started out short but grew while I worked on it. It combines a number of ideas I’ve been mulling over for a long time about what really caused the Puppy phenomenon and then the Trump disaster. Not sure it’ll actually be of any help to you, but I had enough fun writing it that I’m going to post it anyway.) 🙂

    Do you think this chapter really gets to the heart of what bothered the Puppies though? This looks more like the material you’d want if you were trying to make the case that the US really did have a history of discrimination against minorities, but I think all of your readers will already believe that, and I don’t think it casts much light on the behavior of the Puppies which, prior to the Donald Trump phenomenon, seemed really incomprehensible.

    My personal belief is that the Puppies genuinely felt attacked, and even if you want to dismiss their feelings as nonsense, I still think you need to explain where those feelings came from. In a nutshell, they felt under attack for being men, for being white, for being Christians, and for being Americans. I don’t think the info you present really helps explain why they felt that way, and without that, it’s impossible to understand their actions.

    For the racist and sexist bits, I’ll just say that a great deal of the rhetoric from the far left really does come across as simply reversing sexist and racist tropes, and if the goal was to “make them feel it and see how they like it,” all I can say is, “mission accomplished!” Regardless of whether one thinks it was a good strategy, sending messages that sound like “all white people are bad” and “all men are evil” has consequences. Note that the gay movement never mounted verbal attacks on straight people, and the Puppy’s (other than John Wright) generally didn’t complain about us attacking them.

    The issue with Christianity and Americanism is a deeper one, since it affects the whole of society—not just activists. Prior to about 1970, most Americans were unselfconsciously religious and unselfconsciously patriotic. People loved their God, they loved their country, they took them both very seriously, and they weren’t ashamed to talk about either one—in almost any context.

    Vietnam, Watergate, the Oil crisis, and a few other things seriously dented Americans’ self-confidence. Today, most people would feel embarrassed to say, “I’m proud to be an American.” That’s a huge, huge change that has created an enormous amount of resentment, which Donald Trump used to great advantage, but it clearly motivated the Puppies too.

    Christianity has been declining around the world ever since Galileo, but the decline in public respect from 1970 to now has been extreme. In my view, the biggest thing that did them in here in the US was that they got involved in politics. Prior to the 1970s, they mostly stayed out of politics, although politicians from both parties often spoke of God and Christian morality. But in the 1970s, they got deeply involved in fights against evolution, gays, and abortion, and they ended up associated with just one party.

    The religious angle is particularly important because it was here that we first saw the development of an alternate reality. The Christian leaders fought dirty. They lied shamelessly about evolution (“it’s just a theory”) and gays (“they recruit by molesting little children”) and abortion (“it’s dangerous to the mother”). Because they still taught their followers that honesty was what God expected from Christians, the media became their enemy, since news sources (who love to report on conflict) would cheerfully expose their lies. They’re the ones who started telling people not to believe the media or anyone else who contradicted their alternate facts. This is also why they could hitch their wagon to Donald Trump; lies have become the water they swim in.

    As a result, outside of far-right circles, most people today are embarrassed to say they’re Christians or even that they believe in God. Now they know how people like me felt years ago when we’d tell people we were gay. It’s hard to feel sorry for them, of course, but, as I said above, this has had consequences.

    People like Brad and Larry grew up in a world where they probably didn’t think about race much, and where they were proud to be Americans and proud to be Mormons. Today, they constantly hear people telling them they’re bad just because they’re white males, and any attempt to defend themselves is taken as proof that they’re bad people. On top of that, they feel they have to work up their courage to tell most people that they’re religious and love their country. They don’t think they did anything to deserve this, and their bitterness spills out everywhere. In their alternate reality, things are even worse: they imagine that people like publishers deliberately discriminate against them for any/all of these reasons. The Puppy Debacle is really the story of how their irrational beliefs led them to do things in the real world that horrified decent people to the point where the Puppies ended up getting shunned for real.

    This is what I believe drove the Puppies, and I think it’s what drives the 40%+ Americans who still support Donald Trump. For your purposes, then, I don’t think there’s a lot of value in looking at the details of the history of discrimination in the US nor of world politics. It’s enough to describe the situation around 1970 and where things went from there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just my two cents, re difference between Germany and America.
      “I am proud to be German” would here very much mean “I am far right, stay away”
      Saying you are a christian feels very normal here. And we are far less religious then I would say the United Staates are. So I have some big doubts here.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Cam: Of course he does. Two words that make me very angry to see together. I hope all readers of the blog are okay with my saying, that Vox takes only the worst of religion and doesn’t understand what I think is the core of Christianity. But okay he makes everythink he argues for look bad, that was somethink I stated before. (I am sure he even manage this if asked what is his favorite Icecreamflavor)
        But okay German look at thinks.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Yes, this. “I’m proud to be German” is a far right dogwhistle. “I’m Christian” or rather “I’m Catholic” or “I’m Protestant” isn’t a big deal. We do have some homophobic far right Christians, but they’re rare and even their own churches try to get rid of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure where Greg is from, but I live in Seattle now and spent 20 years living in the San Francisco area, neither location are places people would be afraid to say that they’re christians, and there are christians in my social circles who aren’t quiet about it. Maybe there are parts of the US where this is true that I’m not familiar with.


      • I’m personally almost surprised that Ted hasn’t gone in for some kind of Germanic Neopaganism. He could stop pretending he cares about Christian morality. He could use it to attack his real enemies–other right wingers who have more followers than he does.

        Only almost, though. Considering his background, neopaganism is probably a bridge too far. It probably also limits the number of followers he could get, which in turn limits his power and influence.


    • Thanks for that Greg

      This post is more pieces I guess. The history of immigration policy is central to Vox Days beliefs and also a big part of his animosity towards Bush for example. The 1992 election is a major political moment for some key players and Buchanan & Perot loom large in Puppy politics. I’m hoping all these pieces fit together more clearly as I go along but I will keep revising this. The eugenics stuff (not currently there but another theme that may get added in here if it’s too unwieldy to work into the main story as flashbacks) might go back in etc. I also need the political context for Worldcon, the Hugo’s and SF 1950 to 2000. It’s hard to talk about Hoyt without talking about Heinlein and impossible to talk about Rabid Puppies 2016 without talking about the Breendoongle and MZB (& Heinlein) You are right that a lot of this is history that many of the key Puppies just don’t think about (particularly Brad) but that’s part of the picture of movements nostalgic for the 1950s (Sad) or 1920s (Rabids)

      Vril weirdness comes up again next chapter and is part of the qanon thread and the willingness for people to believe (& act on) nonsense


      • If we are going to talk about Brad and Larry and race, it may be useful to touch upon the extremely racist history of the Mormon church.


        • The thing with the Mormon thing is that if I have a bit of stuff in it then I have to have a lot of stuff on it. There’s a whole extra book’s worth. A recurring theme here from Vril to Qanon is people taking obvious works of fantastical fiction and organising & acting on it as if it were factual…and, well…


      • I understand completely. This is one of those projects that could easily get away from you with all of the ancillary issues that feed into it. I do think it is notable that so many of the Puppyish people are Mormons, and the fact that Mormonism has an explicitly racist (and sexist) past puts a lot of tat into perspective.

        Tackling the history of Mormonism would be a huge task though, so not doing more than a passing reference to it is completely understandable.

        Liked by 1 person

        • True – also, while anti-Mormon bigotry isn’t on the scale of anti-Semitism, it is still a thing and while that shouldn’t stop legit criticism and discussion of Mormon beliefs, I’d want to have thought through the boundaries better. Having said that, I’ll probably touch on some of the extreme alt-right statements about Mormons that came up during the 2016 election also.


      • One might also note that there is a streak of anti-Semitism that runs through Mormon eschatology as well. It is a weird kind of paternalistic anti-Semitism, but it is still pretty bad.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Greg Hullender: [The Puppies] felt under attack for being men, for being white, for being Christians, and for being Americans. I don’t think the info you present really helps explain why they felt that way, and without that, it’s impossible to understand their actions.

      I absolutely agree with this. When someone is a white man who has spent their whole life being taught that white men are the most intelligent, the most important, that women exist to serve their needs and obey their commands, that people of color are inferior, less intelligent, and less capable, they see that as the natural order of things. And when someone has been the beneficiary of privilege their entire life and suddenly that privilege becomes less, it’s not perceived as things being equalized, it’s perceived as them being persecuted.

      Greg Hullender: For the racist and sexist bits, I’ll just say that a great deal of the rhetoric from the far left really does come across as simply reversing sexist and racist tropes, and if the goal was to “make them feel it and see how they like it,” all I can say is, “mission accomplished!” Regardless of whether one thinks it was a good strategy, sending messages that sound like “all white people are bad” and “all men are evil” has consequences.

      But the thing is that the far left is a very small part of the left, and the vast majority of people were not saying and doing this. Calling it a “strategy” implies that it was an organized effort on the part of everyone who has been working toward a more equal society.

      The white men who have claimed that all white men were being demonized have been using an abuser’s technique, where a valid criticism is transformed into a sweeping statement that was never actually made, as a way to discount and discredit that criticism.

      It’s also an abuser’s technique for them to claim that they would have been more receptive to the message that things have been systemically unfair for centuries, if only it had been phrased more politely. It doesn’t matter how politely the message of unfairness was phrased, because the men saying this were never going to be willing to accept it, no matter how kindly it was worded.

      I do understand that a lot of white men (including my father) have gotten a lot of comfort and validation from continually reassuring themselves that their successes were purely a result of their own efforts and intelligence, rather than a combination of those with a system that has always been biased in their favor — and that having that reassurance taken away from them by the people pointing out the biases in the system has been very distressing for them.

      But the reality is that there is no possible way that message could have ever been phrased that a lot of white men would be willing to accept it without anger and resentment.

      Liked by 5 people

  11. Writing a book is a heroic effort. Let me suggest you sort out the SF history and the slice of American history. Give the American history, then come back for the SF and/or fan history in a second chapter, that can reference the first. At the moment it reads as though nothing happened in SF between Gernsback and 2000 or so.


    • That’s a good point George – the break is intentional as the next chapter zips back to the 1930s and then follows Worldcon, the Hugo’s up to the 2000 with fewer references to the politics (up to a point – I mean obviously there’s the Futurians and then WWII again etc)


      • You may need to discuss why saying that a stfnal society called its leader the General Secretary might possible have had political implications. Are you going to include comics fandom via Wertham? Gender issues go back at least to Wonder Woman. Best of luck. Speaking from experience, writing a book and finishing is challenging.


      • I am afraid of how many books we have for Cam in the end, this is the backstory, not the mainevent.
        But as last chapter, most interesting anacdotes from the comments to the first draft?

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m not sure that you need this whole historic timeline chapter, but if you have it, I think you do need a bit in it on anti-Semitism in the U.S. because it’s an important factor in immigration history, civil rights discrimination in the 20th century from conservatives and more relatedly, the field of science fiction. Hugo was Jewish and it informed a lot of what he did in the early 20th century when anti-Semitism was high. Jewish people were frequently targeted for immigration discrimination. One of the reasons that Eastern European immigrants were undesirable in the U.S. is that a lot of them were Jews. Jewish people were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan from the 1920’s onward, including bombings and attacks and that targeting was one of the reasons Jews often allied with Black Americans during the civil rights movements post-WWII. The idea that Jews ran the world in a secret cabal ran throughout the 20th century in America and into the 21st century. It was particularly promoted by magnate Henry Ford through his publications in the 1930’s.

    In the 1930’s American fascist sympathizers and isolationist nationalists (the America First and Make America Great Again material that Trump repurposed for modern conservative extremists,) not only exerted influence to keep America out of the war but increased anti-immigration sentiment, particularly against Jewish immigrants. Two Jewish men created Superman out of their frustration with the U.S. anti-Jewish and pro-fascist attitudes in 1938. And in 1939, the U.S. famously refused to take in a boat of Jewish refugees fleeing from Hitler’s regime as well as other refusals to take in other groups of Jewish refugees including 20,000 Jewish children. There were both overt laws and hidden rules discriminating against Jews both before and after WWII, keeping them out of hotels, swimming pools, golf and other social clubs and most critically, redlining them from being able to buy property in gated communities. Jews often had to create their own neighborhoods, country clubs, resorts, etc., living in segregation both voluntary and involuntary.

    There were a lot of Jewish authors in the WWII-post-WWII “golden” era of SF (1930’s-1960’s) living with those circumstances. Many of them were influential (Asimov,) and many of them had to deal with anti-Semitism from major SF players/editors. They were not in turn particularly inclusive of Black American authors, though Afrofuturism of the 1960’s-1970’s new era did make some changes. There were political battles which I’m sure you may mention in covering Hugo Award and other conflicts in the field. Anti-Semitism discrimination somewhat eased after the 1960’s but it continued to resurface.

    In the 1960’s, the Christian Identity movement and extreme right Christian theocracy had an uptick. It was in response to the civil rights movement (Black Americans,) but also contained a high level of anti-Semitism which continued on through the 1980’s Moral Majority movement, the 1990’s New World Order myths and on into things like QAnon which is incredibly anti-Semitic. And it’s that Christian Identity movement that let conservative Christians more and more dominate American Christianity, evangelicalism and conservatism that really is the background for the modern anti-civil rights movements like the Puppies. That’s the background culture that Brad, Larry and others come from. They don’t see themselves as persecuting Jews and BIPOC directly but they will reflexively use anti-civil rights language and insults in defending their positions because that was standard practice among conservatives in the backlash efforts from the last civil rights era. Caught in a new civil rights era in the 21st century, white far right Christians and conservatives continually rail against changing culture in which white, cishet men, particularly Christian evangelicals, are seen as losing cultural status, political and economic domination and the myth of their innate meritorious goodness they believe should remain central to American society.

    The Puppies did not, for the most part, use direct anti-Semitism, (except that Beale is very much of that view.) But it’s been a part of SFF political clashes in the past and it is very much a main factor in the current violent movements of white nationalism and white Christian theocracy in the U.S. and in other white majority countries. The Jews were claimed by the right to be running the world as an occult cabal in the early 20th century, the mid-20th century, the late 20th century and throughout the current 21st century and in particular by Trumpers and QAnoners, philosophies which the Puppies currently support in whole or in part.

    So that’s a long-winded way of saying you might want an anti-Semitism paragraph in there somewhere with a U.S. anti-immigrant history timeline. But also remember that the fundamental factor around which American culture and political clashes are based is white supremacy racism, primarily against Black people. White American right wing theocracy is entirely built around anti-Black anger, in the notion of white divinity countering the supposed inferiority of Black Americans and Africans to keep their rightful place in the society. All the other prejudices circle around it like moons around a planet, with Jewish, Indigenous and Latino prejudice the closest ones. The Puppies’ movement, like the other ones, was a matter of perceiving a loss of social status and power if others’ civil rights and participation increased. That thing that conservatives so often accuse progressives of doing — making everything about race — is because in America, everything is about race. And the dominant racial group makes sure they systematically and politically stay dominant by pretending that they just happen to be dominant — and becoming violent whenever that dominance is challenged. (See the Capitol riot.)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Camestros,

    I came here from a fan newsletter that complimented the series you’re doing here. I felt I needed to comment to explain why I think your series is currently going off the mark.

    I’m with Greg on this to some extent. I really feel this chapter doesn’t get to the heart of what bothered ‘the Puppies’. In fact, worse than that, I think you’re attributing massive geopolitical significance to a fan happening that it simply doesn’t deserve.

    Historians often rely on secondary sources and desk research, but that’s largely because the people involved are dead. In this case, you (and some of your commentators) are making an awful lot of assumptions about peoples’ motivations, and their significance in the context of US politics, based on online commentary. I guess you haven’t interviewed any of the ‘Puppy leaders’ since, from my observation, they have largely banned you from their blogs. Likewise, it doesn’t seem like you’ve actually interviewed anyone on the ‘non-Puppy’ side either (?) – despite the fact that many of the people involved in Puppygate are alive and well six years later.

    I’m guessing from writing ‘at the other side of the world’ that you’re not based in the States. I’m also guessing that you’re probably not American. America is a ‘foreign’ country to non-Americans and when people talk about a ‘culture war’, they really mean it. You are writing here about a culture that is probably alien to you, and which remains alien to outsiders despite the soft power of America exerted through media production. American films and other media are, as far as I can see, largely left-leaning and produced in a few global cities. Believing you understand America through American media is a comforting myth, but about as accurate as pretending to understand the experience of growing up in Japan as a result of watching anime. You understand this, I think, on some level, which is why your narrative position is pretty ‘othering’ to the people you identify as right-wing Americans.

    I haven’t done any interviewing either, but I have met some of the people involved (albeit briefly).

    My ‘hot take’ on the Puppies is that, regardless of the political language people used, this was a fan phenomenon caused by the mainstreaming of science fiction and fantasy – certainly in the English-speaking western world. The Marvel CU is huge. Star Wars is huge. Game of Thrones was massive. Being interested in ‘geeky’ activities is no longer marginalising or unusual. Moreover, there’s an growing interest in speculative fiction outside of western countries and English language media. The result of this has been an explosion in the number of people involved in speculative fiction – films, TV, books, and fan fiction.

    Whereas, in the early days of George R.R Martin at Worldcon (the story of which some of us endured at great length during this year’s Hugo awards ceremony), it was possible to get all sci-fi fans who mattered into a single conference venue, there’s now no possibility of getting everyone who enjoys speculative fiction together in a single space. Certainly not a single space as small as Worldcon, which is limited in size by its tradition of being volunteer-run.

    However, despite this, the Hugos still hold a great deal of prestige internationally, as do some other legacy institutions, such as Locus and some of the big print short fiction magazines. This is, again, to some extent, due to the legacy soft power of American SF.

    The result is a handful of tiny legacy institutions that have outsized influence in a vast, exploding genre. This is inevitably going to lead to fights over who controls them, and who gets to make the decisions. Reading Larry Correia’s initial comments about his experience attending Worldcon after being nominated for the Astounding Award, he felt persecuted by the fans at Worldcon. This year, there was a justified outcry from many young, international, non-white and LGBT+ authors who felt similarly excluded from Worldcon by long-standing fans (largely white American Baby Boomers). These long-standing fans have disproportionate influence over the Hugo Awards, Worldcon and, by extension, English-language SF&F, due to their length of service, and not their talent.

    The parallels here between Larry Correia and the more recent controversies are striking. They’re particularly striking because the Worldcon Puppygate narrative of ‘bold progressives standing up to bigots’ never held up to close scrutiny. There was literally a handful of non-white writers on the pictures of the 2015/2016 Hugo awards ceremony (the pictures of Loncon 3 are the whitest thing that has happened in London for the last half century). Racially diverse authors have only turned up on the Hugo ballot in the last couple of years in large numbers as a result of a valiant effort by progressive readers who, I suspect, turned up for Puppygate and stuck around. Speaking as someone who read the Hugo-nominated fiction pre-Puppygate and also this year, there has been a massive improvement in quality from 2014 to 2020 – probably because the recent nominees were chosen to be great authors and not just ‘good authors who also filk’.

    Yes, of course there was a political dimension to Puppygate, but it’s way more complex than a bunch of crusty old right-wingers being pushed into the background by the appearance of N. K. Jemisin on the ballot. The writers in question, such as Larry Correia, were never in the foreground wielding power – he’s now only about 40 years old (I think), comparatively young for a writer, and certainly quite young compared to the old guard in fandom.

    In short, my guess (and I’m open to revising this opinion with further investigation) is there is a cabal of elderly American fans who hang around Worldcon and are snotty to ‘upstart’ authors, and anyone who doesn’t fit in, whether they’re Larry Correia or Rebecca Kuang.

    My view is that Puppygate was the beginning of a shifting of the tectonic plates in terms of what’s prestigious, who gets to gatekeep quality in the genre and so on. I suspect the result will be a far wider, more diverse, exciting, invigorating and varied range of awards, magazines and conventions, as people set up more exciting new institutions. You can see this among the US libertarian/conservative pulp authors involved with the Dragon Awards and you can also see this with new online events like FIYAHCON. All these things are to be embraced and celebrated, and – by tying Puppygate to a political commentary around the history of the US culture war – you’re kinda missing the point.


    • Thanks and yes, I may well be missing the point 🙂 Part of this project is about what happened afterwards and the lens I had to look at the politics of the USA 2016-2020. I guess that aspect won’t become clearer until Part 5 (which is a longgg way off) and the parts people will be most focused on is Part 3 which will be about 15 essays long. I think Part 3 (and maybe Part 2) will fit closer to what you describe as an approach to the Sad Puppies.

      And, yes – I’m not American and have never even visited North America. That’s an issue and I’ll make misteps as a consequence.


      • @Camestros – thanks for your polite reply. It is appreciated.

        On the non-Pup side, I was thinking you might want to interview members of the Sasquan organising committee. Or perhaps some of the authors nominated by the Puppies who didn’t necessarily want to be. Or perhaps key genre figures, such as Cat Rambo, who – presumably – would have some insights as to how it felt to be in the thick of things. Yes, these people have blogged, but a retrospective would be interesting and, also, people’s public posts don’t necessarily reflect their entire selves or lived experiences.

        As for the @nonCamestros comments below… I’m very familiar with the frenzied attack penguins who hang around File770 and their bizarre toxic pile-on behaviour with strangers (not even Puppies, just random fans). It’s not a good look, especially in the comments section of a major award-winning fanzine. My position is to treat most ‘Filers’ like a derelict spacecraft full of Tribbles. Do not engage. If you spot someone else engaging, either mount a surreptitious rescue or lurk with popcorn.


        • femmederesistance, Why would Cat Rambo have been in the thick of the Sad Puppies? It really didn’t have anything to do with her.

          As far as the non-Puppy authors whose works were hostages on the Puppy slate, most of them spoke at the time, and there are records of what they said. I think it would be rather cruel for anyone to go back to them and ask them to dredge it all up again. I suspect that’s pain that they’d rather forget and not be reminded of.


      • “My position is to treat most ‘Filers’ like a derelict spacecraft full of Tribbles. Do not engage. If you spot someone else engaging, either mount a surreptitious rescue or lurk with popcorn.”

        So, basically, you don’t have an opinion worth caring about then.


      • I think there is deep irony in the fact that the people femmederesistance derides as “a derelict spacecraft full of Tribbles” and the people they think Cam should interview are, in many cases, the same people.

        Liked by 1 person

    • “Reading Larry Correia’s initial comments about his experience attending Worldcon after being nominated for the Astounding Award, he felt persecuted by the fans at Worldcon.”

      Those weren’t his initial comments. His initial comments were all very complimentary of Worldcon and described his experience as being quite nice. It was only after he launched the Puppy campaign and it was to his advantage to create a narrative of persecution that he changed his story.

      That’s not the only time he (or the other Pups) have changed their stories about their experiences or what their motivations were. Correia is not a reliable narrator of events, and neither are any of the other Pups, which is why it would be a waste of time to “interview” them.


      • I think their point was more about the value of interviewing non-puppies. I can see value in that but I’m not the guy to write that version of the story.

        You are right about interviewing the actual Sad Pups – aside from anything else, they wrote a lot about their thoughts at the time and since


      • That’s a good point – very little about what the Puppies thought or what their motivations were is really a mystery. They wrote about this at length at the time (and then got mad when people quoted what they had written). The real issue is trying to sort through their ever shifting sets of self-justifications to get at the truth.

        For what it is worth, I think your assessment of U.S. history and politics is generally accurate – certainly accurate enough for this sort of project. I also think you have enough readers and commenters who are from the U.S. and knowledgeable about these subjects that you won’t veer too far astray without someone pointing it out.

        But what do I know. I only have a degree in history from a U.S. university, a law degree from one of the most conservative law schools in the country, and two decades working as a Federal lawyer.


    • Just as someone who is also not American, so may not count.
      You asked about Cam interviewing someone from ‘The other side’, for me Cam is someone who fits this. He was there and started this bloc durring puppygate.
      Re Gatekeeper: You know that there is no one, who has really power over the Hugos (Except the buisness meeting perhaps), there is no restriction on who votes or nominates.
      I was only a bystander in the whole afair (had one memorable point but that was a sightstory), but Cam could talk towards some of the people who were involved quite easy and does and has done.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Science fiction and fantasy have been mainstream and a major player of entertainment culture since the mid-20th century. The idea that SFF is a nerdy niche that has only recently become big and had mainstream acceptance is a mirage that has been floated every decade since the 1950’s and it’s never been true. While there is better global/international communication in fandom, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t huge before. The biggest franchises in visual entertainment have almost all been science fiction and fantasy properties. Science fiction and fantasy works have been some of the most record holding bestsellers for decades and some of the longest lasting works in literature studies as well as frequently adapted for the screen. Science fiction and fantasy have regularly influenced music and later music videos, fashion, architecture, home design, etc. Science fiction and fantasy toys have been among the most popular toys, bolstered by animated cartoons that served as ad entertainment throughout the later 20th century. Video/electronic games, starting from the 1980’s were massive mainstream entertainment for all genders in arcades and later at home and SFF games dominated the industry and always have, as well as the empire of RPG games from the 1970’s onwards. From the 1930’s to the 1970’s, SFF comics were a major, massively mainstream art form for both boys and girls and in the 1990’s, comics began to be a major influence along with past SFF influences in film and television.

      Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Indiana Jones, slasher films and scream queens, James Bond, Jurassic Park, Disney films, Terminator, The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Blade Runner, Predator, The Matrix, Mad Max, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Godzilla, The X-Files, Back to the Future, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Stargate, Planet of the Apes, Doctor Who, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Independence Day, 1984, Brave New World, Lord of the Rings, Stranger in a Strange Land, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Transformers, He-Man, Spider Friends, Sesame Street, V, Max Headroom, Westworld, Red Dwarf, Alien Nation, Quantum Leap, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1930’s monster movies, 1950’s monster/alien movies like The Blob, The Thing, Jonny Quest, Speedracer, Super Friends, My Favorite Martian, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Alf, Mork & Mindy, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Fantastic Voyage, Batman, Blake’s 7, The Prisoner, Beetlejuice, The Rocketeer, etc.

      There is nothing more mainstream than science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy have dominated the mainstream culture. And the Puppies were not arguing against SFF being more mainstream. Instead, they argued that the authors being nominated for and winning the Hugos were not mainstream enough to be worthy of the Hugos. What the Puppies didn’t like was that there had been a concerted push for the written SFF field to include more BIPOC authors and characters, that people wanted stories about marginalized people and not just cishet white guys, and that some of those stories were getting popular success and/or acclaim attention. For the Puppies, with their political ideology, that meant that they — and conservative, anti-civil rights politics — would be sidelined when they should dominate as the supposedly most mainstream. The Puppies accused more progressive authors and fans of ignoring the mainstream, not dragging SFF into it. At least in the first campaigns they waged.


    • femmederesistance, I appreciate that you took the time and thought to write this comment, but there’s a bunch of research you need to do before you can comment knowledgeably on Puppygate, and you haven’t done it (the erroneous assessment of Correia’s Worldcon experience being just one example).

      I estimate that it would take at least a couple of hundred hours of reading for you to get up-to-speed on everything enough to be able to knowledgeably discuss it. If you want to do that, there’s an exhaustive “Puppy Kerfuffle Timeline” linked at the top of this blog which Camestros wrote and has maintained over the last 6 years.

      Camestros, and many of the people commenting here (including me), have done their research. Camestros and many of the people here have been deeply immersed in Worldcon and the Hugos and the Puppies since 2015 (and many even before that). Cam and these people have been deeply involved in the non-Puppy side. You are talking to those people. The things about which you admit you are guessing are things which have been analyzed and discussed and dissected endlessly here over the last 6 years by people who have been right in the middle of it.

      Cam has “interviewed” the Puppies by continuously reading their blogs over the last 6 years. The Puppies put it all out on display there. Even after they banned him from commenting, he has continued to read their blathering and has analyzed and commented on it here.

      Camestros is also an absolutely brilliant polymath whose understanding of the nuances of American history and politics, as a non-American, is probably better even than my own as an American (and I’m pretty intelligent and aware). And his understanding of global history and politics makes me look like an absolute moron.

      I’ve become aware in the last couple of years, from things said by people who were not deeply involved over the last 6 years, that there’s a narrative going around that all of the Worldcon members were Puppies and that it was a bunch of outsiders who came in and “saved” the Hugos. While a significant number of new people did become involved, a huge number of the people who did the “anti-Puppy work” were already Worldcon members at the time it happened. Understanding that is one of the foundational keys to understanding everything that has happened since 2015.


      • I can only think that the mith you quote, could come from the fact, that we had a lot of new people joining in as suporting members, who from how the vote went, perhabs had the motivation to rescue the Hugos from the puppies.
        Without them we would have not been the shoutout we had at the Hugos, but the puppys were great at getting all cats in the same direction.
        One of the misstakes we see is also saying that the puppies are indirect resposible for the many female winners we have since then, but if we look at 2014 for example, it was allready underway and we didn’t have only male winners in 2014.


    • I tried to make sense of the points that the post of femmederesistance made, but lost interest somewhere, warning long.

      A bit more into the thinks that bothered me:

      The Puppys were not fandriven. It was an action done by writers followed by a group of people whos independece is a matter of dispute at last for the sad puppies (Ak some try to say they acted independent).

      Re Interviews: Interviews are interesting, if they give more acurate information is questionable. The puppies have simply not enough creditability left and frankly we have their words at the time, enough scorces.
      Now an interview with fans, profesonel writers, Kevin… could be interesting, but also they have talked a lot. This was a very public fight. And I don’t think it is necesary Cams stile, if we are not talking about interviews with Timothy.

      The Explosion of Science-fiction and Fantasy into the mainstream: In the early days that was perhaps true, that the SFworld was small, I don’t think it has been true since I am alive and I am not young anymore.
      It was definitly not new in the time of puppygate.
      And the idea that the puppys have anythink to do with the mainstream of our genere, is not in any connections to the facts.

      I am also very skeptical, about getting all fans that mattered into one space. This seems very American centered to me.

      Yes, the prestige of the Hugos is very depending on the prestige of American SF and it isn’t getting less anytime soon, I think.

      I don’t see much parallels between LC and the recent happenings at the worldcon, (btw I am not sure what femmederesistance is talking about here, the programming isues or George RR Martins Awardspeaches and speaches and speaches)
      I don’t see the difference between Ann Leckie, Charles Stross, Mary Robinette Kowal, John Chu and Kameron Hurleys Works (To take the fiction catagories and best related to that year as this striking as femmederesistance. And this was actially the point were I lost interest and it got to much work to address everythink that was wrong here.


    • femmederesistance, I’m pondering your well-argued and articulate view that Camestros is failing to understand American culture because of being non-American. It’s worth considering. I see at least one big problem, though.

      That’s your implied notion of a unified, consensual American culture for Camestros to fail to grasp. Seems to me, it’s a mirage. I suspect American culture has always been fractally diverse, but only obviously so since around the time Walter Cronkite retired and the lack of a shared national vision became official. I see around me overlapping, wildly discordant subcultures, mostly still oblivious to the fact that they use the same words but (in many cases) with quite different meanings and framings.

      Oh, I forgot: Hullo, despite UK orthography, I’m an American who’s been whipsawed through six-plus decades of wrenching change in this weird and perplexing country, and keeps being blindsided by his countrymen saying and doing odd things. I feel like I better understand Israelis’ contentious politics and dark humour (on account of having been a volunteer kibbutznik), better understand old-time UK culture (on account of formative years in Hong Kong’s government school system), and better understand overseas Scandinavians’ continual reversion to Jante Law cultural constraints (on account of family). Modern Americans, though? Difficult to predict, except maybe stochastically.

      It seems to me that Camestros is reasonably tracking this complexity and confusion pretty well, probably better than I as a US-born American citizen ever could.

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