Even explosions have stages. The pressure was palpable on the eve of the Hugo finalists announcement for those who had some presentiment of events. Kary English was one of the few women included on the two Puppy slates and she’d been included twice: for her short story Totalled and for the Campbell/Astounding award for Best New Writer.
Reacting to Steve Davidson’s post at Amazing Stories (see Chapter 39), English wrote a post entitled The Disavowal, discussing politics and her relationship with the Sad Puppy slate. In it, she listed that she disavowed racism, sexism, homophobia, “political litmus tests” and also “judging a group based on the actions of a few”. She also stated her dislike of internet controversies:
“I loathe internet drama. I almost said no to Sad Puppies because I knew drama would follow. There is vitriol on both sides, and I disavow it. I will not take part in the vitriol, and I will do what I can to keep the kerfuffle to a minimum.”http://karyenglish.com/2015/04/the-disavowal/
Framing the likely drama in terms of the internet belied the likelihood that the Puppy slates would have been a major fandom drama in most eras of the Hugo Awards. However, English’s instinct that drama would follow was wholly correct. So why participate in the Sad Puppy campaign? Unlike some of Torgersen’s picks for his slate, English had been contacted by him. She explained her decision:
“I said yes to Sad Puppies this year because I saw the seeds of change. I saw an organizer who wanted to broaden the slate. Sad Puppies includes greater political variety, more women, more people of color and more non-het writers than it ever has before, and I wanted to support that growth.ibid
Change comes in baby steps. Is Sad Puppies as diverse or inclusive as I’d like it to be? No, not yet, but I said yes in support of that first baby step. My view is that when someone makes a good faith effort to be more ecumenical, when someone reaches across the aisle and extends a hand to the other side, someone has to cross over. Insularity breeds more insularity. Brad made a gesture, and I wanted to support it.”
English regarded Sad Puppies 3 as a move by a right-leaning faction in fandom towards more progressive politics. It is an odd conclusion to draw given Torgersen’s repeated and overt statements that the slate was overtly opposed to what he called “affirmative action” but the mixed, muddled and often confused messaging of Sad Puppies 3 campaign allowed people to pick out quite different features and insist that a positive aspect as the signal and the contradictory features were simply noise.
Many of Torgersen’s picks for the slate were based on his professional network. Four out of the five Sad Puppy picks for Best Novelette were from Torgersen’s main platform for his work, Analog Magazine — the venerable science fiction magazine that had once been helmed by the influential (and reactionary) John Campbell. Others, like Carter Reid (the author of the web comic slated in Best Graphic Story) were part of Torgersen’s Utah connections and people he had worked with on writing projects. So while Torgersen and the so-called Evil League of Evil had their own political agendas and their own strategies, the recruits for his slate had often been enlisted on the basis of personal trust networks and Torgersen’s nice-guy image.
Brad Torgersen then took his professional network and used it to create a social media explosion.
At the pro-Gamergate right-wing news outlet Brietbart, Milo Yiannopoulos’s co-writer Allum Bokhari was triumphant about the Sad/Rabid Puppy sweep of the Hugo Awards on the day it was announced.
“What a time to be alive! Liberals write for Breitbart, a cartoon girl in green and purple is a symbol of terror for the authoritarian Left, and now an online campaign with a manatee for a spokesperson is exposing political cliques in the world of science fiction and fantasy publishing.”https://www.breitbart.com/europe/2015/04/04/hugo-awards-nominations-swept-by-anti-sjw-anti-authoritarian-authors/ 
The Breitbart article also attempted to push the duality of the aims of Sad Puppies 3 and the nature of the slate, stating first:
“Brad R. Torgersen, who managed this year’s Sad Puppies campaign, spoke to Breitbart London about its success: ‘I am glad to be overturning the applecart. Numerous authors, editors, and markets have been routinely snubbed or ignored over the years because they were not popular inside WSFS or because their politics have made them radioactive.'”ibid
…and then condemning critics of the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns who claimed that the campaigns were anti-diversity:
“Perhaps the most bizarre allegation is the claim that supporters of the Sad Puppies constitute their own clique, and are trying to achieve dominance for conservative and libertarian authors. The presence of liberals and progressives like Anne Bellet, Kary English, and Rajnar Vajra on the nomination slate appears to have escaped critics. Correia, Hoyt, Torgerson and others have always maintained that their goal is to end political intolerance in sci-fi, not reinforce it.”ibid
Eagle-eyed readers will note that Vox Day is not listed in the names saying that their goal is to end “political intolerance” even though Day was quoted in the article. If Bellet or English did win a Hugo Award would that be a victory for the Sad Puppies or a defeat on the grounds that once again “progressive” women who included diverse characters in their work had won a Hugo Award?
Science fiction fan, author, journalist and Hugo Award winner, Charlie Jane Anders covered the Puppy Hugo sweep at influential pop-culture news site io9. Anders saw the outcome as potentially destroying the Hugo Awards.
“But this year’s list of nominees seems to herald the beginning of the Hugos becoming “political” in the sense that each “side” will have its own recommended slate of nominees. People won’t get to spend months chewing over the best things they read in the previous year and grappling with their own consciences about what to nominate — instead, each side will have to decide early on which standard-bearers to double down on. Either that, or we’ll see some other solution.”https://gizmodo.com/the-hugo-awards-were-always-political-now-theyre-only-1695721604
The Sad & Rabid Puppy slates had shown that with a degree of discipline, a coordinated campaign could control the nomination process of the Hugo Awards. The likely outcome of that would not be some rebalancing of the nominations or slower pace of social change in the make-up of the finalists but that 2016 would see counter-slates. The finalist then would be determined by whichever slate could drum up the most numbers.
At the Sad Puppy sympathetic Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson had hosted a post with live coverage of the Hugo Finalist announcement on April 4. As the full extent of the sweep became clear she commented:
“Pretty cool, isn’t it? I no longer feel like my vote has just vanished into a black hole.”https://madgeniusclub.com/2015/04/04/2014-hugo-nominations/#comment-54921
At his own blog, Sad Puppy organiser Brad Torgersen was also delighted:
“We at SP3 offer our hearty congratulations to all of the authors, editors, and artists included. The Hugo is the most venerable touchstone of the field of Science Fiction & Fantasy. We’re glad to see that this year’s ballot is unusually cosmopolitan in its composition, featuring numerous veteran authors and editors, as well as many new authors and editors who are adding their unique flavor to the field as a whole.”https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/stealing-the-enterprise/
In this initial version of the finalist, the “unusually cosmopolitan” composition included six works by John C Wright alone and eight works from an obscure one-year-old Finnish based publisher Castalia House. In the Best Novella category, four of the five finalists were from Castalia.
British author Charles Stross put his effort into explaining who and what Castalia House was and why fans should be worried. The issue at hand was not Torgersen’s Sad Puppies but Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies and Day controlled Castalia. On the topic of Day, Stross explained:
“Over a period of years, he’s built an international coalition, finding common cause with the European neo-nazi fringe. Now they’ve attempted to turn the Hugo Awards into a battlefield in their (American) culture wars. But this clearly isn’t the end game they have in mind: it’s only a beginning. (The Hugos, by their very nature, are an award anyone can vote in for a small fee: it is interesting to speculate on how deep Vox Day’s pockets are.) But the real burning question is, “what will he attack next?””http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/04/the-biggest-little-sf-publishe.html
With his own publishing house, Day in principle could manufacture SFWA-qualifying authors and take over the organisation that had expelled him.
The reactions to the Puppy event were spreading across fandom. Elizabeth Sandifer’s blog had caught the wave of the new-found popularity of Doctor Who by producing long-form essays that examined the political, literary and esoteric aspects of the long-running series. Her reaction to events was direct:
“The Hugo Award Nominations have just been successfully hijacked by neofascists.”https://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/the-day-fandom-ended
As with Charles Stross’s post, Sandifer avoided the misdirection of the confused messaging of Torgersen’s Sad Puppy campaign and focused on the true big winner of the Hugo finalists. After providing some of the more extreme positions that Day had advocated, Sandifer stated:
“They are, obviously, preposterously vile things to say. But they are so vile that they defy the usual rhetoric with which we respond to loathsome views. They are not positions or claims that polite society is really equipped to engage with. They are so far outside the bounds of what is socially acceptable in 2015 that it is difficult to imagine many forums in which they would even be permitted to be aired. I’d go with something glib like “even Fox News would sack someone who publicly expressed those views,” but even that seems insufficient. Truth be told, I have trouble thinking of any mainstream groups or organizations where someone who publicly espoused those views would not be ostracized.”ibid
Sandifer regarded the impact on fandom as severe:
“To be frank, it means that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom does not have any legitimacy right now. Period. A community that can be this effectively controlled by someone who thinks black people are subhuman and who has called for acid attacks on feminists is not one whose awards have any sort of cultural validity. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to functional communities. And the fact that it has just happened to the oldest and most venerable award in the sci-fi/fantasy community makes it unambiguously clear that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom is not fit for purpose.”ibid
She had a solution though, one that rested on two features of the Hugo Awards. People could still by supporting memberships that would give them voting rights in the finals of the Hugo Awards and people could vote for “no award”.
“If science fiction and fantasy are genres you care about, and if you can spare $40, I highly encourage you to join and, when the Hugo Ballot is released, vote No Award in all categories. Because otherwise, and especially if there are any awards in the six categories in which every nomination is neo-fascist endorsed, the cultural legitimacy of the Hugo Awards and of mainstream science fiction fandom will be permanently compromised.”ibid
Her proposal was to No Award everything — even works that she admired and which hadn’t been on a slate such as the critically acclaimed Doctor Who episode Listen and the graphic story Ms Marvel. With the dual slates having such a huge impact on the finalists, all categories were essentially compromised. If fans reacted by essentially nullifying the whole year’s worth of finalists then future slates would look like a futile idea.
Deirdre Saoirse Moen was also proposing “no award” as a strategy but more tactically. Within a few hours of the Hugo finalists announcement, she had produced “The Puppy-Free Hugo Award Voter’s Guide” — a list of the categories showing which finalists were not on a Puppy slate and where people who wanted to vote ‘no award’ above the slated-finalist should use that option.
“Follow, or don’t, your choice. If you are voting the strict ix-nay uppy-pay slate, here’s the options in each category:”https://deirdre.net/2015/04/04/the-puppy-free-hugo-award-voters-guide/
On the category of Best Fan Writer, she listed Laura J. Mixon (the author of a report critical of the writer Requires Hate) but also stated that Mixon had also campaigned for the award “IMHO makes her no better than the Puppies”.
At the blog of Teresa Nielsen Hayden, her husband Patrick covered the connections between the Puppy campaigns and Gamergate by citing Tweets from Gamergate enthusiast Daddy Warpig. He also made four observations:
“(1) To the best of my knowledge, the campaign to get a slate of specific people and works onto the Hugo ballot hasn’t done anything that violates the rules.http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/016194.html#016194
(2) As anyone over the age of ten knows, it’s generally possible to do things that are dubious, or scummy, or even downright evil, without violating any laws or rules.
(3) Merely running a campaign to get a slate of specific people and works onto the Hugo ballot doesn’t really rise to the level of “evil”, but it’s definitely “dubious” at the very least. Which is to say, it violates a lot of people’s sense of how one ought to behave, and if you do it you’ll incur widespread disapproval. Prepare to deal.
(4) However, running a campaign to get a slate of specific people and works onto the Hugo ballot and reaching out to #Gamergate for support in this…in effect, inviting a bunch of people who traffic in violent threats, intimidation, and “SWATting” to join our community…well, that rises all the way to “downright evil”.”
As earlier chapters showed, the connections between the Puppy campaigns and Gamergate were deeper than just Daddy Warpig. Having said that is unclear whether these overtures brought in any additional Gamergaters into the Puppy campaign, given there was already a significant overlap with followers of Vox Day and to a lesser extent Larry Correia.
A long thread of comments ensued including a flying visit from Brad Torgersen. However, I want to focus on a comment from the blog host Teresa Nielsen Hayden who had also been thinking about the strategic response to Puppy sweep:
“It’s too late to salvage the 2015 ballot, but not the 2015 Hugo Awards. Supporting memberships are still being sold, and they can vote. Want to strike back against the Sad Puppies and everything they represent? Buy a supporting membership. Vote for the nominees you love or like or find worthy. Do it with no agenda beyond your love of SF. Next year, buy one early enough to nominate. We’ve been worrying about bringing on a system of warring slates. It’s unnecessary. You don’t need a slate to beat a slate. What you need are a lot more votes, chosen according to the individual voters’ preferences. It doesn’t matter if their distribution is unfocused, as long as there are enough of them. Even if block voting campaigns manage to wedge a few nominees onto a ballot, the combined votes of all those supporting memberships applied to the five nominees in each category is going to swamp any slate-based voting that doesn’t represent a sizeable fraction of actual fannish taste.http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/016194.html#4071202
I love the idea of beating the SP’s covert elitism with an answer that’s more democratic, draws more fans into voting for the Hugos, and finds its winners in the combined preferences of many more voters.”
Whatever voting approach people followed (No Award everything, No Award only the slated finalists, or just vote for stuff you find worthy) the key would be getting more people to vote.
The Puppy impact on the Hugo Awards was attracting the attention of the broader news media. However, with two interrelated campaigns (the Sad and the Rabid Puppies) and confused messaging from people involved in the Sad Puppy campaign (either as organisers, supporters or conscripted nominees), the accounts often confused details.
An April 6 news story (two days after the finalist announcement) in Entertainment Weekly attempted to capture the gist of events but badly mangled many of the details:
“The Hugo Awards have fallen victim to a campaign in which misogynist groups lobbied to nominate only white males for the science fiction book awards. These groups, Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies (both of which are affiliated with last year’s GamerGate scandal), urged sci-fi fans to become members of the Hugo Awards’ voting body, World Science Fiction Convention, in order to cast votes against female writers and writers of color.”Archive of the original version later corrected https://archive.is/X2HPi#selection-1761.0-1767.174
To defend the claim that Rabid Puppies was a misogynist group would not have been a challenge but to make that claim about the Sad Puppies was more of a challenge. “Affiliated” was a strong term to use for a nebulous group like Gamergate but the connection between the two groups had already been asserted by the Gamergate-friendly outlet Brietbart.
Neither group of Puppies had overtly stated that people should vote against female writers or writers of colour, although Brad Torgersen’s “affirmative action” claims could easily be read that way and Vox Day’s track record on the issues could be easily found. However, both campaigns definitely had nominated women and people of colour. That the journalist had misunderstood the twist in the events was made more clear when the article cited Annie Bellet’s Goodnight Stars as an example of a finalist that had made it despite the Puppy intervention instead of because of it.
The Entertainment Weekly had drawn in part from Elizabeth Sandifer’s blog article (see above) which had focused (correctly) on Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies and Day’s extremism. Both Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia objected to the article and it was corrected the same day. The new version began:
“CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green. This story has been updated to more accurately reflect this. EW regrets the error.”https://ew.com/article/2015/04/06/hugo-award-nominations-sad-puppies/
The correction did not mollify either Larry Correia or Brad Torgersen. Correia saw it as an example of how the media would attack conservatives:
“So, SMOFs and Moderates, read that article. Hell, just read the headline… If you’ve paid any attention or have even an iota of honesty in your soul you know that article in a national publication is total bullshit. Now do you understand why it is so very tempting for my side to just say to hell with it and hoist the black flag?https://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/06/a-letter-to-the-smofs-moderates-and-fence-sitters-from-the-author-who-started-sad-puppies/
EDIT 2, they’ve already changed the article because the EW lawyers freaked out. That should tell you something. I’ve got the original cached. Since they changed it, here is the original. See moderates? This is what happens when you cross the Social Justice crowd. The truth become irrelevant and they spread whatever they can about you to get you shunned and destroyed.”
In the same post Correia also blamed the general claim of Gamergate involvement on Teresa Nielsen Hayden. As the Gamergate connections were undeniable, Correia changed the claim to one that Gamergate were “behind” (i.e. organising) the Puppy campaigns. He also warned:
“Oh, quick note moderates and SMOFs, if you don’t want GamerGate to get involved in the Hugos, don’t blame me. Tell your Social Justice idiots to shut up on Twitter! TNH is the one invoking and provoking them, not me.”ibid
Brad Torgersen also objected to the Gamergate connection:
“The error-laden article quickly went viral — especially among opponents of Sad Puppies 3. Twitter (which I generally avoid and ignore) lit up like a Christmas tree, and quickly I had friends and other authors contacting me to say, “Entertainment Weekly has run a hatchet piece on you! Better jump on it!” So I read the piece. I noted the errors. I also noted that the piece made an explicitly inductive link between Sad Puppies 3 and last year’s great nerd controversy: GamerGate. The reasons for this were pretty obvious. Words like “racist” and “misogynist” are presently code for “not part of the human equation” thus any man or woman who can be successfully labeled these things, is cut off from polite circles, perhaps even driven out of the workplace, or worse. These words tend to be used as general-purpose ideological grenades, when the thrower of said grenades lacks sufficiently real evidence of wrong-doing — but wants to see the target squirm and suffer anyway.”https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/fort-living-room/
Torgersen also rejected the claim of racism and sexism citing a specific piece of evidence:
“Obviously, anyone who tries to make a coherent case for me being racist or sexist . . . has over 21 years of contradictory evidence to overcome. You cannot have lived my life, and be a racist or a sexist. It is an ontological impossibility. I’ve seen too much of the elephant, to borrow a phrase. Plus, my wife probably would have thrown me out on my butt a long time ago — she being the far more astute judge of character, than either a low-rent tabloid blogger or a pernicious and vindictive SF/F personality.”https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/fort-living-room/
Meanwhile, The Guardian also had coverage of the Hugo Awards. Guardian columnist Damien Walter already had past experience with Larry Correia in 2014 (see chapter 26) and had a better grasp of the dual campaigns that the Entertainment Weekly. Interestingly, Walter downplayed the ideological element of the campaigns and focused on an underlying motive:
“What the Hugo awards are vulnerable to isn’t the bitter argument between liberals and conservatives, but the clever manipulation of such differences by self-promoters. Most writers, even in relatively commercially genres like sci-fi and fantasy, sell remarkably low numbers of books. It’s not surprising, then, that some writers ramp up political arguments as a way of gaining the attention they crave, and pulling publicity stunts like block-voting campaigns. Some involved with the block vote no doubt believe they are on a righteous crusade against liberals in sci-fi. But that only makes them more easily exploited by those who are only interested in gaining status and selling books.”https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/apr/06/are-the-hugo-nominees-really-the-best-sci-fi-books-of-the-year
Conversely, in a piece at Salon, Arthur Chu saw the Sad Puppies as part of a broader tapestry of conservatism in the internet age but also part of an older strain in American conservatism, comparing them to the 19th-century reactionary “Know-Nothings”.
Conservative magazine National Review also linked Gamergate and Sad Puppies as twin phenomenon:
“The response to the social-justice Left in the gaming world was “Gamergate,” an online movement that (and this is an understatement) “punched back twice as hard” against the left-dominated gaming media. The resulting online battles were extraordinarily vicious, with claims and counterclaims of online bullying, “doxing” (exposure of personally identifying information on the web), and general internet hand-to-hand combat.https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/social-justice-warriors-arent-so-tough-when-even-sad-puppies-can-beat-them-david/
In science fiction, the response was “Sad Puppies,” a movement led by conservative author Larry Correia. Why Sad Puppies? Because “boring message fiction is the leading cause of Puppy Related Sadness.” Correia and his Sad Puppies targeted the Hugo Awards, prestigious writing awards voted on by members of “Worldcon,” the World Science Fiction Convention. Correia had known that the social-justice Left had campaigned against him previously, so he countered with his own campaign — assisted by leading conservative and libertarian authors.”
Not every high profile response was in a newspaper or magazine. George R.R. Martin may have been at the apex of his fame as a fantasy writer in 2015 but his social media presence was still his humble (technologically) LiveJournal blog. Having enjoyed a long history with the Hugo Awards and Worldcon, Martin was desolate with what he was calling “Puppygate”:
“Call it block voting. Call it ballot stuffing. Call it gaming the system. There’s truth to all of those characterizations.https://grrm.livejournal.com/417125.html
You can’t call it cheating, though. It was all within the rules.
But many things can be legal, and still bad… and this is one of those, from where I sit.
I think the Sad Puppies have broken the Hugo Awards, and I am not sure they can ever be repaired.”
Next Time: April Part 3 — Battlelines
-  The “cartoon girl” reference is to the Gamergate mascot “Vivian James” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fine_Young_Capitalists
-  Day didn’t do this but it wasn’t an unreasonable suspicion.
-  https://www.salon.com/2015/04/06/sci_fis_right_wing_backlash_never_doubt_that_a_small_group_of_deranged_trolls_can_ruin_anything_even_the_hugo_awards/