Debarkle Chapter 13: Meanwhile…RaceFail’09

Debarkle Chapter 13: Meanwhile…RaceFail’09

Early in 2009, an internet argument started up, primarily in the social media/blogging system called LiveJournal, over the question of race & racism within science-fiction & fantasy. This chapter is not a summary of events in that argument. There are numerous overviews, summaries and guides to the discussion that became known as RaceFail’09 written by people who were involved and for the ins and outs of the event, I’ll be linking to several of them. Many of them start with the observation that key or important post have since been deleted, which is true and this exacerbated by a move in 2017 by LiveJournal to start operating under Russian law (making LGBTQI content vulnerable to bans and government censorship), which led to many people closing accounts[1].

I shan’t be writing a definitive 12th anniversary retrospective of an event that I wasn’t part of and whose boundaries and even key events are disputed. Moreover, this chapter has to fit in with a wider work that is concerned with the behaviour and beliefs of a set of right-wing authors who firstly, did not take part in RaceFail, secondly largely ignored it at the time and thirdly held views utterly at odds with key participants. Nevertheless, RaceFail is part of the wider story of the Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015 and did involve some of the characters we have already met on the left/liberal/political centre of the story so far, including Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Charles Stross and John Scalzi.

In the meantime, let me start with some links and then a short and almost certainly wrong summary…

Firstly some links. RaceFail’09 has had multiple attempts at documentation. Rather than footnote everything, here are several attempts to summarise events. I’ve picked summaries that I have found to be repeatedly linked to by others, so inclusion here isn’t an endorsement of these as the ‘best’ summaries. If a claim doesn’t have a footnote, then it is from at least one (and usually several) of these accounts or is my attempt at analysis or opinion.

The normal place to start an account of RaceFail’09 is with a LiveJournal essay by author Elizabeth Bear entitled whatever you’re doing, you’re probably wrong [3] about how writers should tackle writing people who are, in various ways, something other than themselves. The advice included things like this:

“1) For one thing, stop thinking about this person you’re writing as The Other. Think of them as human, an individual. Not A Man. Not A Woman. Not A Chinese Person or A Handicapped Person or A Person With Cancer or a Queer Person. A person. Stop trying to make them universal, and make them unique.”

The advice and Bear’s own assessment of her background led to a degree of pushback from some people commenting on the post. In particular, comic’s blogger Avalon’s Willow wrote an open letter in response to Bear’s post and the subsequent debate in the comments section expressing her frustration with how often Black representation within science-fiction popular culture fails in particular ways and concludes:

“It’s about being fed up with all of that and not in the mood to pamper or pet someone who has far more privilege than they seem willing to admit to in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. And not wanting to watch them parade in a hairshirt when there are others who are actually hurting from a true lack of something.

I’m not calling you a monster. I’m not calling you a racist. But I am calling you clueless and ill worded and more than a touch thoughtless. Your ability to think about things, sometimes, does not erase my pain or lack. And only thinking of how things come across, sometimes, is not enough to make me like you. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything that could make me like you, other than you somehow earning my respect. And that’s never going to happen if you keep checking in with me (metaphorical me, the larger culture and audience of PoC me) to see how you’re going. Cause then it looks like so much brownie points, so much patting yourself on the back, so much excuses and dissembling; so much pride.”

And from there matters escalated. On one side liberal or left-of-centre white authors and editors talking in terms of the problem of how to write inclusively and on the other people of colour (many of them women) arguing that the issue is an immediate one of systemic and often open racism within science-fiction & fantasy publishing, fandom and popular culture but with the added noise, misreadings of tone, and bad-actors exploiting conflict that accompanies internet discussions. And that was the rough sense that I had of RaceFail’09 reading about it a few years later.

However, pointing at a particular post as the start of RaceFail runs into issues because, naturally, Bear’s post was part of a wider ongoing discussion. For context, a preceding post by Jay Lake is also often cited as a starting point.

“The blog is talking about current fighting in Gaza, but this is a question which runs rife through our field. I’ve spoke before here on the blog about being on a panel about cultural authority and appropriation a few years ago with an Australian writer, a Canadian writer, and a Scottish writer. Both the Australian and the Canadian were horrified at the thought that a white writer might use Aboriginal or First Nations material in their fiction, that we as white writers didn’t have standing to do that. This baffled both me and the Scottish fellow. By this logic, the only culture I have ‘standing’ to comment on is middle aged, middle class, WASP male American culture. If I stuck to writing about that, I’d either be John Updike or unpublished. (Which of those possibilities is the more likely I leave as an exercise for the reader.) This line of thinking says I cannot write about female characters because I am not a woman, or Jewish characters because I am a Gentile.”

You can follow that post back another layer to The Edge of the American West blogpost which was discussing not writing fiction but political discussion. Specifically, it was looking at how people framed arguments about the 2008-2009 Gaza War[4] in which Israel invaded the Gaza Strip to attack the military wing of Hamas and in the process killed over a thousand people and destroyed buildings in densely populated urban areas. The Edge of the American West post asked this question:

“Serious question: are there good reasons why an individual’s background or cultural positioning should provide that person more authority in a political argument?”

Alternatively, “RaceFail’09” is itself a misleading name. The alternate title (likewise in fandom’s ancient tradition of funny names for fannish conflicts) “The Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM” points to a longer discussion that has no definitive beginning at all but is associated with the Wisconsin science fiction convention[5] aka WisCon — a convention famous for engaging with feminism as well as issues around gender, sexuality and race. In particular, a 2006 panel on the issue of cultural appropriation and a subsequent 2007 session featuring the panellists K. Tempest Bradford, Yoon Ha Lee, and Nnedi Okorafor, among others[6]. The panels were part of an ongoing discussion on the broad topic of cultural appropriation and which would spawn multiple online discussions[7].

Pulling back to a wider context still, we have multiple factors in play in the first decade of the 21st century:

  1. Increased awareness among white middle-class English speaking authors and editors of Northern European descent of broader issues of inclusion and representation.
  2. The availability of internet technologies and new social media tools enabled the connection of people with similar interests and backgrounds who were geographically spread out. This enabled many sub-groups of people to find people with common interests and experiences.
  3. As a consequence of point 2, people from backgrounds that had been historically marginalised or excluded from popular culture to varying degrees being better able to organise, find common cause and express their opinions.
  4. A tendency among internet-based communities from old style Usenet groups, to forums, to blog-associated comment sections or groups on new social media platforms like Facebook, to establish defensive behaviour towards perceived attacks.
  5. A radical shift in the relationship between authors and readers.

On point 5, science-fiction fandom had a long tradition of a more democratic kind of engagement between readers, writers, editors and publishers through fanzines and conventions. However, the internet not only enables greater engagement but also allowed many people to engage critically with media. Science fiction’s tendency towards the intellectualisation of populist entertainment would now also include readers bringing with them tools of literary criticism.

Amid these factors, there was also an answer to the political question asked in The Edge of American West post. The question was, are there good reasons why an individual’s background or cultural positioning should provide that person more authority in a political argument? A broad answer would be it depends on the nature of the political argument but a specific answer would be, an individual’s background, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, social class, disability does genuinely lend them more authority when the question at hand is about the experience of living as a person of that background. A point that is implied within Elizabeth Bear’s post in a limited way or even in a more limited way in more general writing advice but which has much broader implications.

The broader implications being a shift in informal authority and fandom is a land with no king. If science fiction fandom was truly going to engage with questions of race and in particular if US fandom was going to engage with the question of the ongoing and historic oppression of Black Americans as the defining issue of the current age of science-fiction, well the people with the right experience of the issues, with the right expertise (within a domain of literature that had always valued expertise as an inherent virtue) were not going to be white men.

Left-wing political movements had been struggling with these ideas since at least the mid-70s. Not unlike fandom, political movements have their combinations of formal and informal power. A view of society that accepts that racism has been endemic, would predict that racism would be pervasive even in communities that were expressly opposed to racism and even perpetuated by people actively opposed to racism. Presented in terms of social-hierarchies or using terms like ‘institutional racism’, these ideas can be portrayed as counter-intuitive or as part of radical epistemologies associated with the vague term “post-modernism”. Yet it’s uncontroversial to understand in the sciences that hidden or unintentional biases can distort data-collection methods, algorithms or experimental methods.

Within the sphere we are looking at with Racefail’09 we had broad communities linked by social networks, largely left of centre (but not exclusively) engaged in a process that was one part a radical restructuring of ideas, one part a semi-generational conflict, one part established people with (informal) authority being challenged, one part ill-judged remarks and at least some part people acting badly on the internet. The latter two parts are hard to judge. A lot of material has gone and that can be spun as either people removing remarks they regretted or people covering up poor behaviour. I’m not in a position to untangle that.

All the recaps do point to an escalation of hostility when influential editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden made a comment on the subject which included a line which I’m quoting decontextualised[8]:

“I wouldn’t even split the problem into “authors” and “readers”. Some people are smarter than others, to put it as baldly as possible.”

re-quoted with marginally more context here

I believe, from the surrounding discussion that the intent wasn’t to characterise the two sides of the ongoing argument in those terms. However, within the frame of the now sprawling argument, it was very easy to see it that way. Regardless, within the broader question of who does and does not have the power within science-fiction fandom, Patrick Nielsen Hayden was a significant figure as an editor and as an online presence. The counter-reaction to the comment led him to delete his LiveJournal account. Teresa Nielsen Hayden characterised events in terms of attack by abusive trolls[9]. In terms of failures of communication, internet arguments are prone to two types of over-generalisation:

  • A person criticising a broad group for actions of a subset of the group (or even an unrelated group).
  • A person seeing criticism of a subset of a group and taking it as a criticism of a whole group.

Where groups and ‘sides’ are as poorly defined as the free-flowing and multi-platform argument of RaceFail inevitably both kinds of over-generalisation would occur.

Meanwhile, John Scalzi would become the next major figure to become embroiled. A specific dispute between an established (white male) author and a pseudonymous LiveJournal user had turned even nastier when the author revealed the pseudonymous person’s legal name. A comment left on Scalzi’s blog also revealed the user’s legal name. Scalzi deleted the comment and wrote an angry post in response. That post also included Scalzi’s summation of the RaceFail dispute so far:

“This is of course intimately related to a long and to my mind absolutely goddamn pointless discussion that’s been going on over at LJ for the last several weeks, which was supposed to be about something but in which that something has been primarily used as cover for a bunch of people to spend quite a lot of time being shouty to be shouty and being pissy to be pissy. Since it’s happened to involve people I know one way or another, some other folks have asked me why I hadn’t weighed in on it to this point. The reason I haven’t is for the same reason I don’t regularly stick my head into a bag filled with angry, feral cats. The fact that someone involved in that “discussion” got a nasty itch to use my site to settle a score basically confirms my opinion that any actual value that particular LJ crapfling might have ever had (which given its overall execution, wasn’t much) has long since evaporated. And what we have left is people thinking it’s a swell idea to drag their shit into my house.”

Which naturally added even further fuel to fire. Again, it was an established white author with a lot of informal power within science fiction fandom being dismissive of an argument much of which was being led by women of colour. Three days later, Scalzi did something more remarkable — he apologised.

All right, here’s the thing: I’m an arrogant schmuck, but I can also listen from time to time. After I went off earlier this week, a number of people I trust came to me and told me I was being unfair to a lot of people, and in varying ways walked me through stuff I missed or lacked context for, and asked me to engage that brain of mine and think about it. Well, I’ve thought about it. And at the moment, here’s what I think:
1. The discussion was a big fat mess, and I still wish it had been better all the way around.
2. But a large chunk of it was a lot better than I had characterized it as being, and thus my characterization of the whole thing as a complete waste of time was based on ignorance, an assumption that the parts I tracked through were the majority of discussion (i.e., more ignorance), and a fair amount of pissed-offedness that an especially irritating if minor part of it showed up at my site.”

In the comments, Black fantasy author N.K.Jemisin wrote:

“I was stunned to see this. Just stunned. In part because so few of these (unhedged, straightforward, grown-up-type apologies) have occurred among the pros who’ve been the nexes of this affair; I figured it was only a matter of time before you locked or deleted your blog in a huff and started calling people names. Also because after your last post, I’d written you off as just another white guy afraid of self-examination, and covering that fear with nonchalance and arrogance. Hell, I’d written off most of SFdom because of this. This post makes me think better, not only of you, but of the industry’s future. Thank you.”

If there was a Hollywood dramatisation of RaceFail, that’s probably where they would finish the story with peace and harmony breaking out. The arguments would continue and the broader discussion on race, representation and cultural appropriation have never stopped.

In 2010, writer Nalo Hopkinson characterised the RaceFail discussion

“When we people of color started to blow up, suddenly there were more of you paying attention. That’s the thing. I’ve said that when you step on my foot once or twice, I might politely ask you to get off it. But by the thousandth time you do it, the excuse of “I didn’t see you there” starts to sound a hell of a lot like, “I don’t care enough about you to pay attention.” The vehement response of people of color to RaceFail got more people paying attention, both white and of color. It showed us people of color that we do have a certain strength of numbers, that there are more of us than the one or two visibly of color people you’ll usually see at a con. People of color in this community have started publishing ventures together as a result. Some white people in the community began addressing the issue and began creating forums for discussion.”

A Reluctant Ambassador from the Planet of Midnight, Nalo Hopkinson

Later in the same essay she would say:

“Some of you will recognize yourselves or friends of yours, or, hell, friends of mine in the actions I’m describing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I hate these people. Believe it or not, my default is towards friendliness. People make mistakes. People say things they haven’t thought through. People do things they later regret. People hurt other people. People propagate systemic inequi-ties because they don’t understand or care how the system works. I know that I do all those things. I’m learning that it’s what you do after you make the mistake that counts. The people who took their courage into their own hands and apologized probably discovered that they didn’t die from it. In fact, maybe they felt a little better than before.”


Despite the rancour and conflict, N.K.Jemisin would a year after it started, say that RaceFail had on balance been a good thing:

“A lot of people I’ve met in the past year — clarification; a lot of white people — seem to think the “fail” part of RaceFail lay in the fact that it occurred at all. It was too angry for anything productive to happen, they say; there’s a time and a place for such conversations but not now; there’s a way to have such conversations but not this. The gist of the objections seem to lie in the belief that SFF could have, would have begun the changes that I’ve experienced this year, even if RaceFail had never occurred. The people involved could’ve raised their objections in a calm and reasoned manner, at which point respectful conversations would have taken place, and the genre would’ve listened. We’re all smart, progressive people. We didn’t need RaceFail to make us change.
To which I say: bullshit. If we didn’t need RaceFail, then why did it occur? The angry questions that it raised didn’t emerge from a vacuum; they’ve been here all along, and had in many cases been expressed already… I not seen the SFF culture change significantly until 2009 — the year before we maybe make contact? Come on, we’re supposed to be talking to aliens by now, and instead we’ve only just started really talking to each other. If reasoned conversation was all it took to trigger change, the transformations of RaceFail would’ve happened a long time ago.”

And that would be a sensible place to end this chapter, except this is not the story of progressive change in science-fiction but rather this is just a chapter in a story about the backlash to progressive change.

How did the overt right-wing of science fiction perceive RaceFail? At the time, it largely went unremarked. It wasn’t until as late as 2014 that Vox Day would claim to have become aware of events[11]. Day used Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s response to criticism of her husband, to portray both her and Patrick as the source of the conflict and as people creating disputes. By 2014 Day was well into his verbal war against John Scalzi, the Nielsen Haydens, and the SFWA but that’s a story for another time.

In other parts of right-wing fandom (and looking at figures who will feature in this story in later chapters) a perception of RaceFail was certainly in place by 2012. At the blog of author Sarah Hoyt, South African/Australian author Dave Freer expressed this sentiment in a comment:

“It’s worth noting that the rent-a-mob – be they racefail or whore-on-wimmin are probably not book buyers – at least not of the kind of books we write and enjoy. So their input is nearly as valuable as say mine on French sf… Oddly hasn’t stopped the publishing establishment for lapping up every word and taking it as direction.
Thank heavens for Baen or I would probably have been among the great unpublished.
You know… if the major part of acquisition in publishing had really been about selling books and not about pleasing the editor’s fine sensibilities… someone would have worked out that books that Jim Baen tossed out to sink or swim (he did put resources into a few, but most new authors got that (and the same happens elsewhere – but they didn’t have the hill of ideological opposition from the book trade to climb. Everyone in it appears to have had a grudge against Jim’s perceived political stance and taken it out the authors) that actually somehow survived the process and sold enough to get bought again… would have outsold their pushed darlings 16 ways to breakfast with same effort, and they’d have been rushing to buy them.”

The characterisation of events was in terms of an internet mob that forced the “publishing establishment” to concede to a political agenda. Notably, Freer also dismisses the people involved as not ‘book buyers’ i.e. not genuinely part of science-fiction fandom.

By 2009 another key player in later events, Brad Torgersen, was a frequent commenter at John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. It is reasonable to assume that he encountered RaceFail as a phenomenon from John Scalzi’s posts on the topic but it was not a topic he commented on there. On his own blog, Torgersen posted an essay in August 2009 entitled Brad R. Torgersen’s Final Word on RaceFail which appears to be a call for military discipline within fandom?

“This will be my final fucking word on this whole RaceFail clusterfuck.If there is one thing the military does very well, it’s letting you know you are nothing special. You show up at Basic Training and from Hour Zero they drill it into you: you are nothing special, your civilian experiences are nothing special, your personal pains and hurts are nothing special, and any chips you carry on your shoulder are going to be knocked off, smashed to the ground, and stomped flat. Nobody gets a pass. Not for gender. Not for race. All are expected to perform to standard and meet the grade. Those who can’t or won’t get over themselves and acclimatize to the mission-first mentality, get their asses smoked via corrective PT, or are washed out because the last thing the military needs are a bunch of Special Cases walking around thinking the entire military needs to make an exception for them because they’re Special.”

Brad’s post rejected the very idea of the discussion about race and privilege within fandom and writing.

“So I hope you’ll forgive me if I’ve run out of patience for people who whine. People who think they are Special. People who think they get a free pass because of their pain. People who expect other people to bend over backwards or tie themselves into a knot. There has been an ass-load of that bullshit throughout the entire stupid saga of RaceFail, going back to the beginning of the year. I’m not much for whining. I’m not much for people wearing their pain on their sleeves and expecting exceptions. That’s just weak. I don’t care who I offend by saying this, that’s just WEAK. You are WEAK for expecting the universe to cater to you and your personal pain. Be it racial or otherwise. That’s not the universe’s job. The universe has better things to do than stop and wait on your navel-gazing ass. Your mission — should you have the intestinal fortitude to accept it — is to suck it up and drive on.”


It is possible that Brad had not engaged with any of the substance of RaceFail. The term “racefailers” is similar to Freer’s later use of the term to describe a group or a movement, which is not typical of how the term was used in other parts of fandom to describe an event (or sequence of events). The military framing of the post is also odd, particularly as much of the discussion (for example Elizabeth Bear’s original post) had direct, actionable advice for aspiring writers of science fiction.

Brad’s post received 9 comments and I don’t believe gained much discussion beyond that.

While at the time, there was very little comment about RaceFail from characters we will meet later in the Debarkle, there were some collisions. At the 2009 Worldcon[12] a panel on “Writing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Geographic Terms” included L. Jagi Lamplighter, an author and editor who would later play a role in the Sad Puppy events. Her views on race received some substantial criticism:

“So, for the record I am appalled and offended and just plain disgusted by her attitude and her condescension and her racism. Because make no mistake that is exactly what she has proven with her own words. No need for slurs or grandiose terrorist gestures when devaluing and disrespect will do. No need to listen to the words of those “girls” that are trying to tell you that your ass is showing. Because clearly we aren’t enlightened enough to know that the best way to approach life is to seek harmony with people who will tolerate our differences by ignoring them.”

The criticism of Lamplighter’s contribution to the panel resulted in attention being drawn on LiveJournal to her husband, author John C Wright. Having converted to Catholicism in 2008, Wright was being overt about his attitudes towards homosexuality (which predated his conversion) and was surprised to discover an influx of visitors to his LiveJournal blog who took exception to his stance.

“One thing I did discover, however, wading through the muck, is that this flash crowd was stirred up by the same folks that spent all yesterday telling my wife she was a racist because — wait for it — she does not approve of racism. There is logic for you.

Being both idle and malicious, one or two was enterprising enough to go through her friends lists, and hunt around for other material to scorn. Well, they found an old post of mine where I was complaining (in intemperate language) about the spinelessness of Sci-Fi channel bowing to political correctness. Not content to flame me there, the busy busybodies spent time sending links out to places here and there on the net, trying to generate some artificial outrage.

It was the same folks. Too bad, because I thought my wife and the other lady had settled the argument, and the Mrs. apologized.”

N.K.Jemisin’s assessment that the fury of RaceFail “shocked the whole genre enough to make it pay attention”[14] was partly in error. The seismic shock of RaceFail was felt sharply only within those parts of the genre already paying attention. The nature of the discussion of race and culture had gone through a permanent shift but there were more reactionary parts of fandom only partially aware that the discussion was taking place or (in the case of Vox Day) actively inimical to the discussion.

Next time: We close out Part 1 with a look at events in 2010


75 responses to “Debarkle Chapter 13: Meanwhile…RaceFail’09”

  1. I see there is a RaceFail in using the Israeli version to describe the Gaza War of 2008-2009. For the Palestinan version, it would be that Israel started a brutal bombing campaign to destroy all resistance to the occupation.

    It is depressing to again see a description of a Israel only defending itself against attacks instead of the instigator in the war.


  2. “…be they racefail or whore-on-wimmin…”

    My, the pups sure like to make funny jokes in which they call women whores.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’d normally take the time to point out that Brad’s full of shit about the military too, but that’s like saying water is still wet, pope definitely confirmed to be catholic.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Is Brad’s post where he talks about people who whine and think they’re special cases a foreshadowing of the part where he whines and thinks he’s a special case? I mean, I’ve never read this before, and it seems hilarious in light of things he said later.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Brad would never complain, whine, or claim to be a special case. He makes observations, string claims and is exceptional.

        Um, I mean, he complains, and whines a lot about not having the world automatically conform to his deep-held assumptions.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’d say the main problem with that screed is not that he thinks the military is the world, it is that the military doesn’t do what he says.

      (At least not the military I know. I can’t really speak about how basic training works in USA, and I suppose it’s plausible that the US military really is as stupid as Brad describes. But if I remember correctly, Brad’s own service history contradicts his claim that “your civilian experiences are nothing special” – he signed up at 35 and was given a desk job and a warrant officer rank because if his civilian experience.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • When I enlisted there were other soldiers in Basic Training who started out at a higher rank because of College Degrees. (Also ROTC which I’m not sure how that would fall under “civilian” experience). Maybe it was different for him, but honestly history and experience has shown me that Brad being full of shit is the more likely choice.

        Liked by 2 people

      • A weekend warrior — not actually military, though they do have to go off to our endless wars nowadays.

        But if he’s kept his day job the whole time, yeah. Not an actual soldier.


  3. political movements have there combinations of formal and informal power.

    s/b “their”.
    I also noticed at least one instance of “Neilsen” (s/b “Nielsen”, you mostly get this right) and “privelege” (s/b “privilege”).

    The nature of the discussion of race and culture and gone through a permanent shift

    s/b “had” for “and”.

    Also the final footnote should be numbered 14 instead of 1?. While I’ve got you here, is there any way for you to make your footnotes into links? Scrolling back and forth between the footnote in the text and the very end of the article is really difficult. does a thing (no, I don’t know how) where the footnote is a link and you can click on it and a little popup rises from the bottom of the screen with the footnote text. This is a big help when reading James Nicoll. does a thing where you click on the number and the paragraph pulls itself apart and the footnote appears in the middle, which is super-cool. But even barring these pieces of Web magic, having anchor tags that would let me scroll down and then back up again would be something.

    There was a slightly similar discussion that went on, on a little later, in an article about Patricia Wrede’s book Thirteenth Child. I recollect it becoming known as “MammothFail”. I mostly tried to stay out of both, which was rather craven of me. I definitely think that both sets of “Fail” were harbingers of positive changes in the field; and both included people in prominent roles who saw an opportunity to be evil bullies and took it. (I can recall one person in particular whom I had known in comics fandom who seemed to be a reasonable person there, but who at some point in the previous few years had become a horror.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fixed. On the footnote links – yes, that’s the plan but only when I get round to it. Partly because notes may be added or deleted still and there’s a bit of work to link them. If you hover over [14] you’ll see it in action now.


      • That is quite the fail even by fail standards. A mammoth fail indeed.

        (Turtledove wrote a book where there were neither Native Americans nor African slaves — instead, the white people enslaved Homo erectus. And it was the 80s, when nobody was woke.)


        • I can’t understand why she didn’t just make it a different fantasy world instead of the U.S. I mean, this was only in 2006. I’m a straight white cis person raised in white-bread redneck midwest America with racism and homophobia baked into my upbringing — and that in 2006, an author would think nothing of doing this sort of erasure with real-life marginalized races, is just absolutely incomprehensible to me.

          Why wouldn’t you just invent your own world, instead of trying to retcon your way past a history of oppression and genocide?

          Liked by 2 people

          • “Real world with magic/monsters in it” is a very different feel to “fantasy world that isn’t our world with magic/monsters in it.” She wanted the feel, I’m guessing, much as her excellent Regency fantasies are set in a version of historical England (which obviously doesn’t raise the same issues).


      • Yeah. As someone who was working on a frontier fantasy at the time (now discarded), I screamed bloody murder at that disappearance of Native Americans. And that “prepping land for human occupation” makes me wince. I don’t think I got past the “won’t be any Native Americans” piece to wince at the next part of the sentence back then. That just…horrifies me even more now.

        But then, I also felt that The Thirteenth Child was most explicitly NOT “frontier fantasy,” but was just another manifestation of the boarding school story.

        Of course, that was before J.K. Rowling created her abomination of North American magic making many of the same mistakes.

        But I come from the perspective of someone living in the US West, on nimiipuu (Nez Perce) land, who often writes speculative fiction based in the US West. I’m picky, and one of the ways to really set me off is to misrepresent not just indigenous people but other minorities in the US West.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pretty good for a short summary.

    No surprise that Pups failed at Racefail, is there?

    I feel as though all of them should, regardless of gender, be called “Karen”. They are the textbook definition of Karen.

    (Didn’t realize Freer was South African — but that explains a lot, doesn’t it?)


  5. You have a few instances where LiveJournal appears as two words (Live Journal) instead of one.

    (Anyone else have an abandoned LiveJournal somewhere? I think I stopped using mine about the time it was sold to the Russians. No idea if they cleared out the accounts or not.)


  6. RaceFail was definitely something that took place in only some corners of the field but would be a basic groundwork for a lot of later incidents and discussions in SFFH, particularly in the U.S. It was definitely started by the Bear incident, though it spread to other issues that were going on as more people joined in and talked about the general issues. I did not initially know about Bear’s clueless white person whining about race in characters. I thought that Avalon’s Willow’s letter to Bear was a spontaneous public communication about Avalon’s Willow’s issues with a character in one of Bear’s novels, a novel that she had liked but had found the character to have racist stereotypical elements that were also appropriative/exploitive and that frustrated and upset her. It was a decent letter. I had read that novel and I basically did get/agree with a lot of what Avalon’s Willow was saying about the character and how it could impact BIPOC. Bear actually wrote a moderately decent, “I’m listening” response back to her. So when people seemed to be continuing to be critical of Bear, that it was a fracas, I, sigh, thought that they were being a bit harsh. It was only later that I learned what had originally set off the communications.

    There were people who escalated it on both sides, but what blew it up was Will Shetterly who went about everywhere verbally attacking people in Bear’s defense, not at her request at first I think, and ended up doxing at least one person. Basically you had a bunch of BIPOC dealing with white authors using BIPOC characters, often poorly, to their advantage in a marketplace with more interest in those characters while authors of color were still being shut out, running into serious obstacles and dealing with regular, clueless racism from white industry folk and fans. And they expressed their frustration running the gamut of trying to kindly educate to seething exhausted rage.

    And in response, you had white authors and publishing folk massively whining that they should be able to do whatever they wanted without BIPOC speaking up, that if authors of color had problems in the field that it had nothing to do with them and the authors of color should suck it up and handle it themselves somehow, that they didn’t think systemic racism in the industry was real and legitimate to complain about, etc., ranging from bewildered cluelessness (that white people tend to wrap themselves in as a defense) to direct and harassing malice. The usual hits that are very familiar to us. Some of those white people did change their positions from the discussion while others got further upset. It was remarkable not for the issues themselves, which have been around forever, but how far the discussions ranged.

    Scalzi did indeed use white privilege to bow out and claim the conflict rather illegitimate, the Internet fell on his head, etc. He not only apologized, he brought in a guest speaker for Whatever who basically tackled white fragility (before it was called that specific term.) It was around that time that Scalzi was leaning more left because of stuff like RaceFail, as well as the later SFWA mess up. Will Shetterly, IIRC, showed up at that conversation (or another one soon after) and went hog wild, including claiming he couldn’t be racist because he used to date Black women.

    I think that most of the Puppies were largely unaware of a lot of RaceFail because it was first off big and wide and second because it was mainly taking place between groups of people whom they didn’t or rarely have anything to do with. But as other incidents occurred that revisited the basic issues raised by RaceFail and by other marginalizations, such as stuff with WisCon and conventions’ Codes of Conduct, the SFWA Bulletin incidents, the subsequent disastrous petition, the Hugo banquet MC controversy, etc., as well as GamerGate out in the wider world, for the main players of the Puppies that seemed to present fallow ground to assert:

    1) That marginalized groups bringing up discrimination issues in SFFH or in general were dangerous and threatening, and;

    2) That this threat had somehow allowed them to take over the industry, including the Hugo awards, as evidenced by them slightly making headway in the field to reduce marginalization compared to what it had been before.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Sigh. Shetterly it seems is another writer whose work i like and whose politics I don’t. Correia is too, actually — I enjoyed his three Grimnoir books. But they weren’t the first, and won’t be the last.

        Liked by 2 people

      • There is no note 10 in the text although its counterpart is still in the footnotes – I assume it was part of the deleted Shetterly material.


      • That sentence could, I think, be quoted and seem relevant in a variety of contexts.


        • Yeah, he showed up at File 770 a couple of years ago to harangue Filers in a massive derail — looking back, he posted more than 60 comments on two posts at that time. I’d forgotten just how obnoxious he’d been on that occasion. What a tosser.

          Liked by 1 person

    • What I remember most about RaceFail is that someone (was this Avalon’s Willow?) complained that the portrayal of a POC was not believable (in Elizabeth Bear’s book?), and someone else said, “Well, clearly you didn’t understand the book.” This struck me as so totally tone-deaf I literally gasped at the computer. (GOL?). It’s possible the sheer incredulity I felt blocked out the participants’ names, but I still remember the shock I felt.

      And count me in as a white person who learned a hell of a lot from RaceFail. To this day I’m glad I heard about the whole thing slightly too late, because I would have been tempted to say something and then died of embarrassment when my stupidity was pointed out to me later.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Bear retracted her “I’m listening” response at one point, which, oddly enough, didn’t help calm things down at all…


  7. I just hate it when these things turn into hair-splitting arguments that liberal white people use to attack each other. At best it wastes energy, and at worst it alienates moderate white people, which hurts black people two ways: first, it makes enemies for them due to no fault of their own, and second, it distracts attention from the real issues.

    The unfairness of condemning people for “erasure” if they leave a minority out and condemning them for “appropriation” if they include a minority is one of the most pernicious. It invites people to think that “all our problems with race were solved long ago–this is just some people playing games.” I wonder what could be accomplished if all this effort were focused on ending double standards for treatment of black people by the police.

    By the way, I thought Nisi Shawl’s book, “Writing the Other,” was a great answer to how to avoid both erasure and appropriation. I strongly recommend reading it and (if you’re a writer or want to be one) doing the exercises.


  8. I am not comenting about Racefail, because I didn’t experience it, and know not about it.
    Just comment on Torgersen qote:
    “you are nothing special, your civilian experiences are nothing special, your personal pains and hurts are nothing special”

    Is scary, hopfully does sound more likly a dictarship dream than reality. Not knowing traumas can also get people killed. I am very tempted to quote Torgerson to some friends who were in the (german) military, could be interesting.

    Re Scalzi: I think here in this chapter we have the most important difference between him and the pubs. The ability to realize when he screwed up and apologiese. None of the puppyringleaders seem to have that ability.

    Liked by 3 people

    • His ability to learn, even when it’s uncomfortable, is one of his most admirable qualities. Maybe a lack of this ability caused the lack of character development in Correia discussed a few days ago.

      The first use of “establish … author” should probably be “established”, as it is at the second use.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I spent some time in the U.S. Army, joining just after Gulf War 1 and staying just after the first couple years of Iraq.

      Sure, Brad’s sentiment is the kind of thing Basic Training tries to drill into your head. We used to make fun of soldiers who “bought in” on the whole army thing, got tattoos, bought the t-shirts. There’s even a meme for that kind of mindset now called “Just Boot Things.”

      One of the things I loved about the army was that people were from all walks of life and parts of the U.S., and most had their side hustle or other thing they loved to do that made them interesting, outside the army. We all had to adhere to standards and do our jobs, but we had lives and families outside the army.

      Based on the time he wrote his post, I think it aligns with the “Punisher Logo” mindset that came out of the military and found its way into law enforcement. People who don’t have much else interesting in their lives tie their whole identity to their “service.”

      Since I’m older now, I’m well aware that there is life outside the military and eventually that identity will come to an end. If you don’t have something making you a “snowflake,” then you’re going to be real boring at the bar when all you can talk about is your military time.

      (On a side note, a crusty platoon sergeant once told me, “I don’t like warrant officers. They’re lazy. Too lazy to be NCOs and too lazy to be a commander like a real officer. Everybody has to listen to their stupid opinions and call them chief when they just sit on their ass in an air conditioned truck. F*ck Chief.” I think about that whenever I read one of Brad’s posts.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • @Chicken Legs: I like that sergeant’s sentiments. Well-expressed and sums up my feeling too (Army brat, descended from both officers and grunts). And he’d know best.

        Presumably the sergeant was speaking about actual full-time Army soldiers too, not weekend warriors!


      • Not that anyone’s reading this now, but it’s another reason Braddles has such a chip on his shoulder about not finishing college.

        1. Mormons are VERY BIG on higher education, especially for men. Young men go off on their mission, then they come back and dive into college (preferably BYU) and they finish it. Young women nowadays do the same, though it’s not as important if they’re just going to housewife.

        But if you’re a man from a middle-class family, by golly you buckle down and get a degree in something from somewhere. Even when I was a kid with Mormon friends back in the late Jurassic 70s, the boys were all expected to graduate from a 4-year university, as were the more academically-inclined girls. The high school diploma girls were expected to do some sort of job till they could catch a nice college grad boy to be sealed to.

        And It must have really hurt his fee-fees when he got attitude from the crusty sergeants AND he had to serve under the guys who’d stuck it out through college — ROTC or just enlisting after — and thus entered as officers. Outranking him, even at a younger age. And he has to salute them.

        Kid might be a butterbar who can barely grow a beard and still has a few zits, but Brad-boy’s got to call him or her SIR because that’s a leader. (Or MA’AM if the LT’s a woman.)

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m tempted to coin another nickname for you: Nutshell, as you pack startlingly useful insights into small spaces. Wrong this summary may be, but it says two things that explain a very great deal that I had not comprehended before (apologies if I’m slower than most):
    1 “ the people with the right experience of the issues, with the right expertise (within a domain of literature that had always valued expertise as an inherent virtue) were not going to be white men” – the shift of authority;
    2 “ The seismic shock of RaceFail was felt sharply only within those parts of the genre already paying attention”.
    (Of course, you don’t need me to name you.)
    The amazing thing about the kerfuffle was, why anybody would do something so stupid and obvious at that particular time. Similarly, people wonder why US slaveholders should have done something as stupid as try to start their own country after losing an election. The Debarkle is showing me why: it was the point at which a series of related issues came to a boil. As I’m just a reader, not really deeply involved in fandom, all this explains a very great deal that was merely gobsmacking when it happened. Thanks so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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