Debarkle Chapter 4: An Inadequate History of Fandom & Worldcon 1939 – 2000

‘FOLLOWERS and glorifiers of the fantastical like to think that they are different, that they represent something new on the face of the earth; mutants born with an intelligence and a sense of farseeing appreciation just a bit higher than the norm. They like to believe that their counterpart has never before existed, that they have no predecessors. “No one,” they say, “has ever seen our visions, dreamed our dreams. Never before has man’s brain reached out so far into the limitless stretches of the cosmos about him.”‘

The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom, Sam Moskowitz 1954

By the 1950s Science Fiction Fandom was so well established as a concept that notable fan, writer and critic Sam Moskowitz felt that he could write a history of (mainly) US fandom[1]. As the opening paragraph (above) suggests, Moskowitz was observing many of the same features often attributed to science fiction fandom and fans. Moskowitz also noted that a common fallacy was to think of science fiction and fandom as being particularly American (or American-British) whereas it was a worldwide phenomenon even if fan groups in other nations were necessarily closely connected. Nor was fandom simply people sharing reviews of favourite stories. Of the international fannish groups that Moskowitz identified, he included the pre-war German group Verein für Raumschiffahrt (which Moskowitz calls the German Rocket Group)[2] whose practical interest in rocketry “presaged the German “buzz-bombs’ of the Second World War” (the group had come together as advisors for Fritz Lang’s film Frau im Mond, and did later include a young Werner von Braun). Willy Ley, a member of the group who fled Germany because of the rise of the Nazis and who was also a notable figure in US fandom and a science fiction writer.

Ley himself would famously document the overlap between pseudoscience and a willingness to take fantastical fiction as fact in his famous 1947 essay Pseudoscience in Naziland, pointing out how groups pushing unfounded esoteric beliefs helped foster Nazism.

“The next group was literally founded upon a novel. That group which I think called itself Wahrheitsgesellschaft — Society for Truth — and which was more or less localized in Berlin, devoted its spare time looking for Vril. Yes, their convictions were founded upon Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Coming Race.” They knew that the book was fiction, Bulwer-Lytton had used that device in order to be able to tell the truth about this “power.” The subterranean humanity was nonsense, Vril was not, Possibly it had enabled the British. who kept it as a State secret, to amass their colonial empire.”

Pseudoscience in Naziland, Willy Ley, Astounding Science Fiction, May 1947,

Fandom was/is a world of contrasts and eclectic ideas. While Ley’s interest in the esoteric was primarily in debunking pseudoscientific ideas, part of the culture of fandom has long been an interest in the new and strange concepts.

Moskowitz’s history also characterised fandom as a culture prone to feuds and disputes. Many of these were interpersonal conflicts played out between or within fan groups. Others, such as the First Staple War of 1934[3] were self-aware parodies of fannish disputes.

Fan activities included meetings and also self-produced magazines and, inevitably, conventions. In July 1939 the ambitiously named World Science Fiction Convention was held in New York with 200 attendees. The very first Worldcon (as the convention would be later called) had its own fannish controversy when the chair Sam Moskowitz excluded the leftwing fan group known as the Futurians. The dispute was motivated by political differences, inter-group rivalry and personal enmity particularly between Moskowitz and one of the Futurian founding members Donald Wolheim[4]. The exclusion of the Futurians raised the question from the very first Worldcon of who could attend and whether there was a segment of fandom too potentially difficult to allow in.

The first Worldcon (aka Nycon for New York convention) was followed by a second in Chicago in 1940 (Chicon, with Guest of Honour E.E. “Doc” Smith) and a third in Denver in 1941 (Denvention, with Guest of Honour Robert A Heinlein). The entry of the USA into World War II put an end to further Worldcons until 1946.

A Golden Age and Beyond

The war didn’t place fandom in a cryogenic vault. In America at least, it continued to develop and organise. Futurian Damon Knight led calls for a national fan organisation in 1941 that became the National Fantasy Fan Federation (or N3F)[5]. In the following decades, the group did include many notable fans and writers such as Forrest J. Ackerman, Bob Tucker and Marion Zimmer Bradley[6] but attempts to create a kind of unified fandom were never likely to succeed.

The science-fiction and fantasy community continued to be a culture of contradictions. It could be both patriarchal and also a space with many notable women. It was (is) a community fascinated by science but also one where esoteric ideas were often blurred between fiction and claims of fact — a notable example being the publication in the 1940s of the so-called “Shaver Mysteries” which mixed claims of psychic powers with lost civilisations.

With the end of the war, science fiction conventions began again in earnest. As a prominent convention, Worldcon took on a role as a “gathering of the tribes”[8]. Run as a kind of perpetual relay race of new organising committees for each iteration, Worldcon itself was an odd experiment in social organisation, existing as a serial series of entities that take on the running of Worldcon. This was later codified as a nominal organisation (in 1961?) as the World Science Fiction Society. In principle, the WSFS can have a completely different executive and membership every year and yet maintain a kind of organisational continuity. This kind of almost utopian anarcho-democracy led to Worldcons being oddly both slow to change and yet flexible. This mix of consistency and flexibility perhaps led to a degree of longevity for the WSFS that was otherwise difficult for organised fandom.

While Europe was recovering and the world’s political landscape had changed utterly, America was entering a period of both economic prosperity and cultural hegemony. Notable editor John W Campbell of Astounding Stories had been fostering and promoting talented science fiction authors since the 1930s (the July 1939 issue of Astounding featured A.E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov and the following month, Robert Heinlein [9]) and was having a profound influence on post-war science fiction.

It was into this environment that Worldcon added a new feature to the annual convention: an award.

The Hugo Awards

The eleventh Worldcon was held in Philadelphia in 1953 and as an addition to the activities, a set of awards were given in a range of categories. The awards included best novel (The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, which had been serialised in Galaxy), best magazine (award jointly to Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy edited by H. L. Gold). Awards were also given for cover artists and interior artists (Hannes Bok, Ed Emshwiller, Virgil Finlay), factual writing (Willy Ley), the best newcomer (Philip José Farmer) and “fan personality’ (Forrest J Ackerman). The award categories mapped out a kind of sphere of interest for fans and Worldcon: novels, magazines, artists, fan activities, non-fiction and new talent.

Worldcon skipped awards in 1954 but picked up the idea again in 1955, handing best novel to a famously bad novel[10] They’d Rather Be Right. A more lasting innovation was the introduction of short-fiction categories for novelettes and short stories. An award for best fanzine was also given, which would also become a permanent category.

The term “Hugo Award” started as an unofficial nickname but by 1955 was already being used as the name for the rocket-shaped trophy by the organising committee [11]. Even so, it would be many years until it became the formal name of the awards. From 1955 onwards, the awards were given out every year with a gradual development in rules, voting methods and categories. While the categories evolved the broad space of stories, magazines, artists and fan activities continued. Dramatic performances were folded into the mix of categories and many years later other media but the overall domain of the awards has remained fairly constant.

Despite the early stumble, the Hugo Awards garnered a reputation for awarding notable works of science fiction. Overt fantasy was less recognised and inevitably there were some significant works that the Hugo Awards ended up ignoring for multiple reasons (notably Lord of the Rings for various reasons[12]). The finalists for the story categories (novel, novelette, short story) in 1956 is a veritable roll call of influential writers including Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Leigh Brackett, L. Sprague de Camp, C. L. Moore, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury.

An early feature of the Hugo Awards that added to their unusual character as a literary award, was the capacity for voters to simply reject all the finalists. The 1959 Worldcon voters chose to reject the choice of The Fly, Dracula and the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad for best SF film[13]. More controversially, ‘ No Award’ also topped the poll for ‘Best New Author’ rejecting a field of nominees that included Brian Aldiss[14].

Changing times

The 1950s and 1960s rolled on. Science Fiction and SF fandom continued to both reflect society and anticipate social change. Women were always a significant presence within fandom and as authors and yet often marginalised or invisible in published fiction. In a similar way, science fiction could produce in 1953 a positive depiction (albeit framed as a tragic twist) depiction of a gay man in Theodore Sturgeon’s short story The World Well Lost while more broadly avoiding the topic of sexuality altogether. The modal position of published science fiction and its leading edges are often remarkably different.

The multi-faceted nature of science fiction and science fiction fandom was not simply a function of a broad and intellectually curious community. Robert A. Heinlein won Hugo Awards for four novels. Three of them (Starship Troopers in 1960, Stranger in a Strange Land in 1962 and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in 1967) have variously been characterised as a Fascist allegory, an inspiration for the 1960s counterculture and a manifesto for libertarians.

The range and nature of the people winning or being nominated for Hugo Awards also shifted during the 1960s. Even so, some things remained constant. John W Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction had damaged its reputation when Campbell used the magazine in 1950 to push the pseudo-scientific psychological theories of one of his writers, L. Ron Hubbard[15]. Dianetics (a forerunner of what would become the Church of Scientology) may have alienated readers but Astounding continued to win Hugo Awards for Best Magazine and under its new name of Analog Science Fiction and Fact would publish many Hugo winning stories including in 1968 Anne McCaffrey’s novella Weyr Search that kicked off her nominally science fiction Pern series.

“The Great Breen Boondoggle”

[content warning for discussion of child abuse]

Fan controversies can often seem petty or even intentionally silly, an appearance reinforced by comical names given to protracted disputes. The ‘Breen Boondoggle’ or Breendoggle was not one of those.

In 1964 Walter Breen had become infamous among science fiction communities in Berkley, California as serial sexual abuser of children. In Alec Nevala-Lee’s account of events he describes the difficulty people had with trying to find a way to deal with Breen’s actions.

“In the meantime, the prominent fan Alva Rogers said that he felt “great reluctance” to exclude anyone from the community, and he had a novel solution to ensure the safety of his own children whenever Breen came to visit: “He wanted to protect his kids of course, but that the situation was adequately handled at his house by having them barricade themselves in their room.””

With the Worldcon scheduled to be in California in 1964, organisers were concerned with whether to exclude Breen or not. The case for exclusion is clear but there were fears that if Breen was excluded then this would open up the possibility of much broader ranges of people being excluded and that exclusion might be ‘McCarthyite’. On a more practical level, organisers were concerned that Breen might sue for defamation if excluded (Breen would not be successfully prosecuted for his crimes until 1991). A further complication was Breen had recently married notable fan and author Marion Zimmer Bradley who was defending Breen’s reputation[16].

In the end, the decision was made to exclude Breen but the discussion had been seen as controversial. In particular, looking back on the events from the current era, it is notable how some accounts dwell on the potential damage to the reputation of the adults rather than the impact on the victims.

Many years later and in a wholly different context, game designer Michael Suileabhain-Wilson coined the idea of the five geek social fallacies [17] — common social-cognitive errors that fannish communities make that foster abusive circumstance. Walter Breen is an extreme example.

Shifting Fandoms

As well as broad social change, the culture of fandom was affected by other influences in the 1960s. The appearance of the TV show Star Trek in 1966 brought intelligent and entertaining science fiction to mainstream culture. In the 1967 Hugo Awards, three of the five finalists (and the one winner) were Trek episodes. Fans such as Bjo Trimble led a campaign to prevent the cancellation of the show after two seasons[18].

Science fiction fandom expanded in multiple directions as did the range of people winning awards. From the late sixties onwards there were always some women finalists in the main story categories and several winners. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that there was an even split of gender in the finalist and even that didn’t last. Women had always participated in fandom but men often had control.

The 1960s and 1970s brought in new perspectives and shifts of topics within science fiction. Much of this came from the so-called New Wave authors but environmental issues and attempts to engage with non-Western cultures were also present in Frank Herbert’s Dune, originally serialised in Analog. Science fiction was broadening as a genre fueled in part by social change but also by fandom’s desire for novelty and authors experimenting with literary forms.

Film and television science fiction was also becoming more ambitious. Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in collaboration with Arthur C Clarke presented a science fiction drama as serious cinema. Since the mid-60s the UK, the distinctly low-cost Doctor Who presented weird science fiction fantasy themes to a mass audience on a Saturday evening. The 1970s introduced Star Wars which spawned its own fandom, as well as associated comics and spin-off novelisation. The genre was expanding.

America’s space program, aided in part by Werner von Braun, fuelled by Cold War rivalry with the USSR eventually led to the 1969 moon landing. It was as if science fictional dreams were coming true. In the Hugo Awards the 1969 Best Dramatic Presentation for 2001: A Space Odyssey was followed in 1970 for an award for the news coverage of the very real Apollo 11 mission.

Advances in computer technology were also catching up with science fictional dreams. In the mid 70s computing technology was moving beyond universities and large business and beginning to become accessible to the general public. 1977 marked the release of the Apple ][ computer as well as computers from Commodore and Tandy that were affordable for semi-serious hobbyists. Developments since the 1960s in networking computers over large distances were also becoming more widely accessible. Likewise, electronic devices for gaming were being marketed to households and as a coin-operated machine. With limited and very abstract graphics, they were often accompanied by imaginative science-fictional titles and art, such as Space Invaders.

The 1980s brought more Star Wars, more computers and more video games. In the Hugo Awards, there was something of a changing of the guard. Many of the most notable from the golden age was drawing to the end of their careers. The 1983 finalist from Best Novel included works by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clark, whereas Best Novella featured a later generation of writers such as Joanna Russ, Gene Wolfe, David Brin and George R R Martin.

Dianetics Strikes Back

Of the many writers that John W Campbell mentored, L Ron Hubbard chose the strangest path. After the initial success and backlash of Dianetics in the 1950s, Hubbard chose to re-imagine his pseudo-scientific psychological theories as a science fictional religion. The Church of Scientology grew over several decades but not without controversy and legal troubles. Allegations of cultish and abusive behaviour within Scientology have dogged the organisation.

Scientology intersected again with the Hugo Awards in the mid-1980s at around the same time that other notable authors championed by Campbell in the 40s and 50s were making their last appearances as finalists. A semi-serious suggestion was made to get L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth a Hugo Award (he was still producing science fiction as well as operating his church)[19] led to nothing. However, in 1987 there was a more organised attempt to win a Hugo for Hubbard who had died in 1986. The book, Black Genesis, had been published three months before Hubbard’s death and received enough nominations to be listed as a finalist. However, in the final voting, it was not only beaten by the other finalists but also received fewer votes than ‘no award’.

The year-earlier Hubbard had established his own science fiction writing contest. The Writers of the Future contest was intended to foster new talent and promote aspiring writers and has a notable list of writers attached to it [20].

Towards a New Century

Cheaper computing and connectivity led to new genres within science fiction (Cyberpunk) and new ways of fans interconnecting. Many fans were early adopters of computing technology and the 1980s saw fans using dial-up bulletin board systems (BBS) as ways of exchanging information or organising sub-groups of fans with niche interests.[21]

BBSs were not only used by fan groups. The technology also provided other kinds of groups with non-mainstream interests to organise and spread information. Among the many sections of the population experimenting with online technology in the 1980s were far-right hate groups[22].

“While investigating the assassination of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg by neonazi White supremacists, the FBI began to unravel hate group telecommunications by tapping the modem telephone line of Robert Miles.”

The early 1990s brought the internet to many homes along with services such as CompuServe, Prodigy and AoL where people could organise their own interest groups. The capacity for fan groups to organise internationally and across time zones increased substantially.

Within the Hugo Awards the 1980s and 1990s saw more new writers and new works that would become influential and sources of debate. Notable winners include William Gibson (Neuromancer 1985), C. J. Cherryh (Cyteen 1989) and Connie Willis (Doomsday Book 1993). Author Orson Scott-Card would enjoy particular success winning two years in a row for his book Ender’s Game (1986) and its sequel Speaker for the Dead (1987), both published by the relatively new publisher Tor Books. The 90’s saw other (relatively) new publishers appearing in the list of winners of Best Novel including Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance in 1996 published by Baen Books.

The arrival of the World Wide Web in the 1990s allowed even greater capacity for people to engage with other fans but also for media companies to promote films, games and books.

A political coda

In US politics the 1990s were dominated by the two-term presidency of Bill Clinton, the first US presidency of a post-cold war. For those of us with a tendency toward narrative disorder[23], it was if the big story arc of the twentieth century had passed its finale but the next major plot line hadn’t been worked out yet. Genuine fears about how information technology might fuel a more powerful state were held by political commentators on both left and right. America was now the dominant military super-power but it’s economic hegemony had been increasingly challenged by Japan, South Korea and China.

The broad popularity of Bill Clinton and third party challenges by Ross Perot (and later his Reform Party) had proven difficult for the Republican Party to overcome in Presidential elections. However, Clinton’s record of sexual harassment had led to numerous scandals that had enabled the Republican Party to do well in mid-term elections.

The web helped fuel the spread of numerous conspiracy theories about President Clinton, supported by talk-radio and the new (launched in 1996) conservative cable news channel Fox News. Chief among those theories was the notorious so-called ‘Clinton Kill List’ — a perpetually growing list of people supposedly murdered at the orders of Bill Clinton or his wife Hillary (or even his mother [24]).

The bungled law enforcement operation at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas[25] in 1993 led to the deaths of 76 people (including 25 children). Among many right-wing communities, the event was perceived as a military assault on gun-owning Christians by the Federal Government rather than a symptom of the systemic overuse of lethal force by law enforcement groups in the USA.

On April 19, 1995, two anti-government terrorists used a van packed with explosives to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City [26]. The blast would kill 168 and injure hundreds of others. The terrorists, active in gun shows and inspired by the White Nationalist dystopian fantasy novel The Turner Diaries[26], sought to gain revenge for the deaths at Waco.

The Oklahoma City bombing at that point, was the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil.

Next Time: Our first adventure into Chapter Fives and a look at the first of actors in this play: John Scalzi.



62 responses to “Debarkle Chapter 4: An Inadequate History of Fandom & Worldcon 1939 – 2000”

  1. Donald Wollheim is typoed as “David Wollheim” in the paragraph about the first Worldcon.


  2. I suppose you’re making a kind of inside baseball observation in saying about the name Hugo that “it would be many years until it became the official name of the awards.” However, the 1955 Worldcon committee was already using “Hugo Award” and “Achievement Award” interchangeably by its fourth Progress Report ( has it online). So your pitch is outside the strike zone!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t see a footnote 15 in the body of the text, though there’s a 15 with the rest of the footnotes at the bottom. (The new Chapter 5?)


  4. You’ve ignored a GIANT source of online fandom gathering in the late 80s/early 90s, namely Usenet groups.

    Much more influential, organizational and important than AOL, etc. A lot of the best content on AOL, Prodigy, etc. was cut and pasted from Usenet. Usenet also was international, so while it was largely US/UK, the whole English-speaking (or as a second language, for Continental Europeans) fandom could get in on it. Plenty of people from Oz/NZ, some of whom I later met at cons.

    It was also free to many people through work or school; when I lost my free access, I signed up with my local provider for a lesser monthly charge than the paid services. Why be in a walled garden that made you deal with graphics (on dial-up!) when you could have the whole world cheaper in text-only, with the ability to completely ignore people? ctrl-k *PLONK*

    There were endless discussions of all the books, movies, and TV shows. spawned the separate high-volume alt. groups for Twin Peaks and the ginormous X-Files group, which gave us such terms as “the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade” and was AFAIK the place where the term “shipping” was invented. (Yep, kids, it doesn’t date till c. 1994).

    Other alt. groups included alt.callahans, which was a virtual simulation of Callahan’s Bar from the Spider Robinson series (which some of us saw actualized [minus Mike] at San Jose 2018). It continues as a Facebook group. Or maybe two? I dunno, I’m only in one.

    Chicon 1991 posted their entire schedule on rec.arts.sf.written (and cross-posted it to other SF groups). I know this because Mr. LT printed the whole damn thing out and we went over it on the plane, with a few other fans borrowing our copies. No need to wait for the pocket program, we had it sussed before we landed! This was the first time anyone outside the concom ever knew what the panels and schedule were before the con.

    I could always sell our Worldcon attending memberships if we couldn’t go (they were a smaller percentage of our income back then, so we bought them every year as long as it was in North America), and I bought two from a guy whose wife had died and he was in no mood to go without her. I sent him some pictures and had a toast at the con for her. Oddly enough, transferring was easy back then even though it took snail mail and sometimes paper at the con.

    rec.arts.sf.written is still happening, and I’m sure many of the others are too. rasfw, as we called it, shaped fandom HEAVILY throughout the 90s. The Fancyclopedia and other such reference works probably have good potted outlines.

    I still have amazingly good IRL friends from the early 90’s newsgroups.

    And I’m sure the neo-Nazis had their own groups and mailing lists, too, but I ignored them. I ignored the MUSHs, MOOs, and MUDs too, because I still had a life.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Usenet gets you a lot of people like me who have never attended a con or any other fannish activity in person but who have been at least peripherally aware of fandom for decades. I started reading and participating in rasfw in the early/mid 90s and then moved on to blogs, etc in subsequent decades.

      I read a lot but post rarely (and under various names/email addresses over the years), so no one knows me but I know quite a lot about what’s going on in fandom. It’s kind of weird, being a long-time lurker.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. At the expense of repeating myself, I’ll repeat myself. 🙂 I’m not seeing how more than about 5% of this is relevant to your topic. If you were trying to write a general history of SF/F fandom, then, sure, but (unless I didn’t get the memo about the change of plans) you’re writing about the Puppies. For that, you only need to describe enough about fandom to make it clear that a) the Hugos had a venerable history and there were a lot of people who thought they were worth defending and b) The Hugos were successful enough that people like Vox Day thought they could make money by getting nominations for their own works, even if they hacked the voting system to do it.

    The Breendoggle doesn’t need much mention except that it’s the source of the Puppy’s otherwise-incomprehensible rants about pedophilia. For that, I think it suffices to say he was very active in fandom in the 1960s, that it was well known he was a pedophile (and, given that he was convicted of it and died in prison, we can assume the charge was true). Yet no one in fandom made much of an effort to get rid of him. The mystery is why something from so long ago continues to obsess these people even today. But at least, unlike QAnon, there really was a pedophile to be mad at, albeit a very long time ago.

    I have always believed that the Puppies used pedophilia as a code word for homosexuality. These days, it’s become almost as bad for your career to be openly homophobic as it is to be proudly racist. So when they (or QAnon, for that matter) talk about pedophilia, I think they’re really talking about gays. However, I can’t prove that, and the one Puppy I discussed it with (Jon Del Arroz) expressed shock that I thought that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just on the relevance of the Breendoggle: it was cited by several people during 2015 as an example of past Worldcon kerfuffles, it was weaponised in 2016 by the Rabids, and was relevant to JDA’s Worldcon expulsion. So on a surface level there are a number of touch points. However, its main relevance is as an example of misplaced tolerance of a person who was actively dangerous to a community and the struggles people had understanding that they had to basically kick him out — now that brings us back around to Vox Day. Now obviously VD isn’t Breen and the danger he presented was not the danger Breen presented but there are deeper parallels between the two

      Liked by 1 person

    • On the other hand it is quite easy to read. 🙂
      I agree here with Cam it was a weapon VD tryed to use, it failed and showed him as a hyprocrite per exelance, when he nominate someone who drew pornocraphy of very young characters. In this context I think better to have it here than not.
      As codeword, I trust in what you say it is used today. I am less sure for Rabbid Puppy 2, because VD, I don’t think it is easy to say what his plan was. That homophobia and sexism and racism played roles is true. And the conection is there exspecially in Moira Graylands related work. I don’t know if your believe is true or if it was just a cynic weapon to hurt Scalzi.

      Liked by 2 people

    • There’s an important connection between the Breendoggle and the past decade that’s being overlooked. In 2014 ran a tribute post about the late Marion Zimmer Bradley which briefly mentioned two people she’d been married to, one of them Walter Breen. Bradley was til then primarily held up as an icon of professional accomplishment by women in the sff field, as an author, editor, and with a magazine named for her.

      The post attracted such immediate and harsh criticism for ignoring the abuse backstory that pulled it. Deirdre Saoirse Moen then wrote a widely-read post on the topic, drawing on information received in emails from Moira Greyland. Through that, Vox Day became aware not only of some actual pedophilia history in the sf field, but he got Greyland to write a book for Castlia House, which he then slated onto the 2016 Hugo ballot.

      The history of Walter Breen was known within fandom from the time he was banned from the 1964 Worldcon, however as fandom grew there were always people for whom it was news. Stephen Golden devoted part of a website to it in the 90s. But what history means changes according to the culture of the present day. And in Vox Day’s case, also according to his agenda, which is to attack a whole array of targets: the Hugos, feminism, homosexuality, pagans, and anything else on his list.

      Liked by 2 people

      • A point of clarification — I mean overlooked in the comment discussion now. Camestros presumably will cover all this in a later segment where it belongs.


      • Tip o’ the hat to Mike on this matter. Thank you in particular for mentioning Stephen Golden’s Web pages, which furnished Deirdre with additional definitive counterarguments, just as a cascade of wandering critics were trying to claim her blog-essay critique of MZB had been unfounded: In fact, Deirdre explained in a follow-up essay, until she rediscovered the court testimony and other evidence Golden had preserved, she had naively understated the degree and scope of Bradley’s personal participation in Breen’s crimes.

        And, Cam: Deirdre says she will be glad to assist as needed, concerning the MZB ruckus of 2014. She can be reached directly (e-mail) at, and I’ve just now called her attention to your current series of retrospectives.

        A propos of little: I’ll always cherish the memory of the Dublin Worldcon’s staff (and nearby hotel employees) handling the “Deirdre Saoirse” majority of my wife name with aplomb, but then stumbling on its “Moen” caboose. (Well, that’s certainly different, thought I.)


        • Goldin — right. Somehow my typing fingers decided they knew better than what was in my head.


    • @Greg: I have always believed that the Puppies used pedophilia as a code word for homosexuality. I don’t think that’s true, at least for most of them. I especially don’t think that it’s true for most of the people, like Beale, who have promulgated the idea. It’s the same with QAnon: I don’t think that most of the sources of QAnon honestly believe that there is a ring of Satanic, cannibalistic, Democratic pedophiles (as opposed to many of the people who soak up this nonsense and repeat it*). It’s simply a way of dehumanizing your opponents and declaring them so morally beyond the pale that any action against them is justified (in the case of QAnon, that means rounding up your political opponents and executing them).

      @Cam: I think the relevance of Breendoggle is deeper than you seem to be suggesting. It’s not just that Beale is an example of a (less horrible) figure that fandom needed to realize must be expelled. It’s that the Rabids’ weaponization of the Breendoggle was intended, as with QAnon, to depict their opponents as moral monsters against whom any tactic was justified, the difference being, as Greg noted, that the Rabids had an actual pedophile to point to. There isn’t any mystery why they keep bringing him up; it’s so they can say “Can’t you see how vile our enemies are?”

      *Like the guy who stormed Cosmo’s Pizza in D.C. with an assault rifle, demanding to be shown to the basement from which Hillary Clinton runs the sex ring, and was then surprised to learn that the pizza parlor doesn’t have a basement. Hopefully the four years he’s spending in Federal prison will give him time to reflect on the credibility of random posts on the internet.


      • Yes – and Qanon/pizzagate and the intentional weaponisation of accusations of pedophilia by the write is going to come up. I mean, we have direct quotes from Vox D explaining it as a political strategy.


      • “It’s simply a way of dehumanizing your opponents and declaring them so morally beyond the pale that any action against them is justified (in the case of QAnon, that means rounding up your political opponents and executing them).”
        I got into a long argument with a dude defending Gina Carano and the imminent Nazi threat of being rounded up in concentration camps, never mind worse rhetoric and actual violence from the right, liberals are the real threat! I have a strong feeling (admittedly not one I could prove) that he’s convinced himself right-wing violence is like Han shooting first — if we’re going to Nazi on guys like him, clearly they’re justified in killing us.
        It’s also an easy way to feel virtuous. Even if all you do to fight them is wear a MAGA hat and vote Trump, you’re crushing the Satanist pedophile cabal! You’re a hero!

        Liked by 1 person

      • There was a good article a few years ago, in The Atlantic or some place like that, reciting a long history in both the American mundane-world far right and, at times, by mainstream Republican political figures, of baselessly accusing the opposition of child sexual abuse on a recurring basis. Point being, it’s a practiced go-to tactical move, especially in times of social change, used to whip up adherents with a potent “Our house is under attack” appeal — with wildly improbable guilt by association so common an element that the audience doesn’t even notice. Speaking of….

        Some may recall that Theo Beale at first challenged my wife Deirdre Saoirse Moen over aspects of her coverage on the MZB affair, and then accorded her respect when she answered his challenges reasonably and politely but without backing down. I also found myself talking with the assembled Faceless Legions about their charge that vaguely-unidentified fandom had covered up for Breen. I said, I really have no idea: If there’s something to their charge, let the facts come out and justice be done. In response, one of them complained about Deirdre having waited until 2014 until speaking, and found it particularly suspicious that she hadn’t raised her MZB banner at Pacfiicon II. I said, although I didn’t know Deirdre in September 1964, and although I’m sure she was a highly articulate and influential opinion-maker back then, nonetheless as she would have needed time off from kindergarten to attend Worldcon, it probably didn’t happen.

        Calendars. They’ve heard of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • As Rick Moen mentions upthread, there’s a famous incident of Karl Rove, Republican political strategist, in the Alabama Supreme Court election in 1994, learning that his Democratic opponent, Mark Kennedy, spends a lot of time advocating for abused and abandoned children, decided it would be a great election strategy to claim Kennedy spent a lot of time *with* abused and abandoned children. Kennedy actually won the campaign, but the whisper offensive worked, and Kennedy retired and didn’t run again.

        The Atlantic has a relevant story:

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think that’s true, at least for most of them.

        I have never EVER EVER EVER EVER not met a rightwinger who did NOT use the words “gay” and “pedophile” interchangable.



        Never in my nearly 50-years of being on out gay person.












        Certainly every single f-ing pro puppy poster who came on to my blog in 2015 and 2016 assumed that because my “About” page identified me as a gay man, that it also meant I was a pedophile.

        There is absolutely no factual question that the right-wingers don’t think those two terms are interchangeable.

        If you don’t understand that, you need to pull your head out of an oriface.

        Sorry, not sorry.

        Liked by 2 people

        • goddammit, I’m really sorry you’ve been subjected to that.

          There are times — sadly, more and more of late — when I think that the Earth has the right idea, and maybe it’d be better off just kicking the human race off the planet and starting over fresh. 😦


    • Greg: a plea for clarity on word usage.

      “pedophile”: an adult who’s sexually attracted to children. Term refers to a calamitously problematic urge.
      “child sexual abuser”: a pedophile who also indulges said urge, thereby committing vile crimes. Term refers to committing a (criminal) deed.

      Studies of the subject claim that a significant percentage of pedophiles manage to conduct their lives in ways that avoid committing that crime. It would be unjust to lump those damaged but arguably heroic people in with criminals by failing to honour the distinction.


  6. “Moskowitz’s history also characterised fandom as a culture prone to feuds and disputes.” Which is true of pretty much every subculture. I’m constantly fascinated by how even groups such as the early 20th century creationists or Goths can wind up splintering into feuding sects (a friend of mine who went through a Goth phase in the 1990s said there were all kinds of sub-groups, each of which saw themselves as purer than the other Goths).
    “They’d Rather Be Right” has not aged well. I can see how the emphasis on conformity and psychotherapy might have made it work back in the day (I blogged about it some years back:
    I’m finding this history interesting enough that I’m not worried how it fits in with the main theme.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, my discovery that there were actually two separate Star Trek fan clubs in Toronto for a while because certain groups of people refused to talk to each other after a split was what led me to pretty much reinvent Sayre’s Law back in University. Sayre’s Law being “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”

        Granted, my original realization was more “There are people out there whose primary goal in life is to find a small enough pond that they can be a big fish in it,” which also seems to apply to a lot of the people involved in the Debarkle. My corollary was then “They will then defend it all the more zealously for its smallness,” which is the part I would years discover was pretty much Sayre’s Law. It’s that weird combination of someone insisting they’re important while in the back of their head probably realizing that their importance is minor, and the combination of public face and private lack of confidence makes them fight tooth and nail to hold on to what ground they have claimed as ‘theirs’.


      • Ancient joke:

        Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

        He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

        He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

        Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

        — Rick M.
        Northern Reformed Synod Agnostics

        Liked by 1 person

    • “They’d Rather Be Right” didn’t present well–it was a controversial choice at the time. That said, I’d dispute the truism of its status as worst Best Novel winner, at least in a world where “The Gods Themselves” and “Foundation’s Edge” are winners. It’s mediocre, and like those works, it probably got the prize at least in part because the fans wanted to award its author something for other, better work. To continue damning it with faint praise–it is probably the best novel that could be written tying in an author’s previous works to Campbell’s latest self-perfection craze, and Clifton deserves credit for not only making the protagonist’s ultimate love interest an aging ex-prostitute, but for writing an implied male-female-male polyamorous relationship into the story, even if he had to insist that he wasn’t doing that (with a wink and a nod). All of which shows you that you could get a lot past Campbell if you played on his hobby horses. But no, it’s not good and it didn’t deserve the Hugo.


      • ” It’s mediocre, and like those works, it probably got the prize at least in part because the fans wanted to award its author something for other, better work.” Common enough, as anyone familiar with Oscar history knows.


  7. What’s the significance of the Mirror Dance win? Didn’t Barrayar and The Vor Game both win before that? (and weren’t both published by Baen as well?)


  8. “The ‘Breen Boondoogle’ or Breendoogle was not one of those.” Both terms should end with “-doggle”, yes?


  9. This is excellent. I’d like to have the Debarkle in book form, as it would be easier to read and keep. (Hint, hint.)

    As to typos, take the apostrophe out of “it’s leading”. For a draft written more or less straight onto the screen, very high quality work. Thanks so much.


  10. “…made to get L. Ron Hubbard’…” Sentence appears to have wandered at this point. What did someone try to get Hubbard? a few words are needed after HUbbard, in my opinion. I may know but an innocent reader may be confused at this point.


  11. Needs some proofing.

    It’s a decent general overview of developing Worldcon history, maybe a little shallow on the Hugos themselves but I think covers the main points that are relevant in running up to the Puppies’ development. I would suggest, though, a brief mention of Afrofuturism and feminist SF here when you are talking about the 1960’s and 1970’s developments in the field and WorldCon. These were relevant to changes in the field at the time and in Hugo nominations at the time, and they are super relevant to the Puppies. Not only were both of those prominent and important SF lit movements against the Puppies’ stated philosophies of SF in execution — part of what they think is wrong think in SF — but when the Puppies initially tried to claim that the Hugo nominations had “changed” in the late 1990’s and should instead go back to the nutty nugget SF of the 1960’s and 1970’s (what they saw as Heinlein’s era even though Heinlein’s era actually spanned several very different decades,) it was quickly pointed out to them that those movements existed during that time they said was better, as well as New Wave SF in general, and that prominent authors from those movements (SJW’s) had gotten Hugo nominations back then. So they started trying to go back even further to an increasingly earlier supposed utopia time when none of them nasty women feminists and non-white authors were around.

    The seismic changes in American culture in the 1950’s-1970’s era, not only on civil rights but in economic class segregation as well, and the reflective changes in the branching out and/or inclusion of wider SF during that period is really the heart of the Puppies’ whining. They are reactionary, as we know, though they are often given a pass because it’s a highly muddled and inchoate reactionary response. In response to the big civil rights movements, we went, particularly in the U.S., through a cultural reactionary backlash time in the late 1970’s into the 1990’s when macho and neo-pulp SFF was popular alongside more liberal SFF folks doing stuff that the Puppies did not usually enjoy. Military SF took off as a separate and profitable sub-category of SF at that time period and tended to be white guy conservative. Conan-like secondary world fantasy also did so, somewhat helped by the RPG games/tie-in fiction developing industry. And that’s what the Puppies mainly grew up with. And even though it all was seldom that popular for award nominations nor made up the majority of the SFF bestsellers (it was more of a wholesale mass market paperback fave,) they see that as the heartbeat of SFF of their youth — the stuff that was made for them, the people they think should matter.

    Their big mistake was that they kept trying to claim that those works were pre-eminent and others didn’t exist, instead of just saying that those works were popular, deserved recognition and more award love — an initial argument they had that got some sympathy, especially from factions of older fans/authors. They kept trying to build a golden age where there was nothing but those books and the “right” sort of authors, even though that never existed even back in the 1930’s (which is why eventually they went all the way back to the 1800’s to try to assemble one.) They could not be one popular, even important faction — they had to be dominant of both SFF and American culture; they had to have a shining before and a destroyed after (the stabbed in the back myth.) And the history of movements like feminist SF and Afrofuturism which then evolved into other movements and prominent white women and BIPOC SFF authors stuck like a thorn into the side of all their arguments.

    Essentially, Hugo voters did make the cultural shift to a wider landscape over the decades, albeit slowly. (The long time to get women to equity in nominations as you noted.) The Puppies did not, or decided that they were now going to refuse to do so and block it from continuing. So that 1960’s-1970’s era had a lot of ripples.


  12. Rick: I think I’ve seen that joke attributed to Emo Philips. It’s also reminiscent of the Effinger’s short story “All the Last Wars at Once”.


    • Oops. Misthreaded. This was intended in response to Rick Moen’s retelling of the joke that starts

      Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”


  13. Reading this over, it occurs to me that Timothy McVeigh was one of the first missed beats I remember that heralded the eventual democratic fibrillation that was Trump’s election. The warning about both far right terrorism AND its possible affiliation with an SFF right wing (“The Turner Diaries” is technically spec-fic, and apparently McVeigh himself was an SF fan) were both there.

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: