Debarkle Chapter 52: Part 4 Puppy Fall 2016-2017

The story so far…

In 2015, Larry Correia’s Sad Puppy campaign targeting the Hugo Awards was handed over to Brad Torgersen. Torgersen put together a bigger slate of nominees with several categories having four or five entries listed. The Sad Puppy campaign was initially supported by far-right blogger, sci-fi author and publisher Vox Day but after a disagreement on tactics, Day revealed his own Rabid Puppy campaign. Day’s slate was largely the same as the Sad Puppy slate but with additional entries, many from his new (2014) publishing venture Castalia House.

The combined slates together swept multiple Hugo Award categories when the finalists were announced in April of 2015. This led to a major backlash fuelled by objections to the slate tactics, the poor quality of many of the Puppy slated finalists and the extreme politics of Vox Day. The Puppy campaigns were characterised by many people in the media as akin to the GamerGate culture war/harassment campaign that had been running within the world of video games since 2014. This comparison was made not just by critics of the Puppies but also by supporters in right-wing outlets such as Breitbart and The Federalist.

Day’s personal animosity towards key figures in fandom associated with Tor Books (specifically John Scalzi and Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden) as well as the long-standing rivalry between Tor and Correia’s publisher Baen Books, helped fuel a parallel campaign by right-wing fans against Tor Books in protest against comments made by a notable Tor employee about the Puppy campaigns.

The 2015 Worldcon saw a massive increase in supporting memberships as a consequence of the controversy. When the final votes were revealed at the Hugo Award Ceremony, multiple categories had no winner due to voters picking the ‘no award’ option over works pushed onto the ballot by slates.

Aggrieved, the Sad Puppies pointed to the apparent injustice of some notable people losing to ‘no award’, including the widely regarded publisher of Baen Books Toni Weiskopff. Meanwhile, Vox Day claimed the results as a victory as, according to him, he had hoped the Rabid Puppy campaign would lead to multiple Hugo categories being burned to the ground by ‘no award’.

Both the Sad and Rabid Puppies vowed to return for the 2016 Hugo Awards but the distance between the two campaigns had increased.

Meanwhile, America was gearing up for the 2016 Presidential Election. In the polls, the Democratic Party front runner was Hillary Clinton who was facing a hard-fought challenge from the more left-wing candidate Bernie Sanders. The Republican Party had a wide range of potential nominees but the initially assumed man-to-beat Jeb Bush was faring poorly and to many people’s surprise, property tycoon and media celebrity Donald Trump was gaining support among Republican voters.

Welcome to 2016

On January 2 2016 a rally of several hundred supporters of a coalition of right-wing militia groups was held in the town of Burns, Oregon[1]. The rally included members of the so-called Three Percenters militia group[2] and was ostensibly a protest of a conviction of two local landowners who had set fires on federal land. Speaking at the protest was Amon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy who had led a tense standoff between militias and law enforcement as part of his campaign against the Federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014.

Towards the end of the protest, Amon Bundy announced his intent to lead an occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge buildings, approximately 50 kilometres out of town. Along with several armed groups, Bundy took over the federally owned buildings. The standoff would last for weeks but despite law enforcement avoiding direct confrontation with the armed groups, one of the protestors was shot and killed after a car chase[3].

It was an inauspicious start to a year.

For those looking for ill-omens, the death of David Bowie on January 10 2016 was significant. Bowie’s long and mercurial career had been underlined by the release just two days earlier by his final album Blackstar[4]. His death at 69 felt far too soon but in April of the same year, the death of another pop-culture icon, Prince, at age 57 added to a feeling of a year marked by ill fortune[5].

Internationally, the Syrian Civil War continued as a multi-factional conflict. As well as the violence of the Syrian government against its own citizens, the role of long-standing opposed regional powers of Turkey, Israel and Iran caused fears of the conflict escalating into a broader regional war. The role of the extremist Islamist group ISIS in the region was also inspiring lone-wolf terrorist attacks further afield. To add to the powder-key element of the conflict, the USA and Russia were at odds militarily in the war and the prospect of the conflict expanding into a direct war between the two superpowers put the two nations closer to war than they had been in decades.

A further consequence of the violence in the Middle East was an increased number of displaced people seeking refuge in other countries. This flow of refugees was met by increased nationalist hostility in Europe, partly fuelled by the ongoing financial fallout and government austerity measures from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Terrorism was also helping quasi-populist right-wing Islamophobic nationalist parties electorally in many European countries[7].

In February 2016, the Conservative Party-led government of the UK announced that the planned referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union would be held on 23 June 2016. The so-called Brexit referendum was an attempt by Prime Minister David Cameron to both placate and sideline the Eurosceptic wing of his own party as well as the growing electoral threat of English nationalist parties such as UKIP[8].

Meanwhile, there were still books to read

2015 had been a loud and noisy year in science fiction but amid the culture war conflicts and psephological inventions, books were still being written and published. Even fans distracted by daily news reports from the frontline of the Puppy conflict found time to read and (perhaps more importantly) argue and debate about what they had read.

The Best-of-2015 articles and recommended reading lists summing up the year had a cornucopia of works from established and new authors. On-going series such as Ann Leckie’s Radch Trilogy had new entries including Charles Stross adding to his long-running Laundry series with The Annihilation Score[9]. The chattering fans in the comments at File 770 were getting excited by newcomer Natasha Pulley’s clockwork fantasy about predestination The Watchmaker of Filigree Street [10]. Other books being recommended included Jim Butcher’s new steampunk series The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy Western Karen Memory and Kai Ashante Wilson’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps[11]. Larry Correia was also getting noticed in the ‘Best Of’ lists with his own new fantasy series for 2015, Son of the Black Sword which eschewed the stereotypical epic fantasy setting of a quasi-middle ages Europe for a world based on pre-modern India [12].

However, two books, in particular, were receiving a lot of attention.

The first of these was Becky Chambers’s A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. The book in many ways was a conventional story of a spaceship and its crew off on an interstellar adventure. Chambers though had but added emphasis on the story being about a found family working through their differences in what was a departure from the more grim tone of many contemporary books in SFF. What was more notable was the route through which the book had been published. Chambers had used the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter in 2015 as a way to get enough funding to spend time finishing her novel. Initially self-published, the popular support for the novel led to Chambers getting a more traditional publishing deal for the novel. Like Andy Weir’s The Martian, Chambers had found other routes to publishing success created by how the internet could connect fans and authors. Notably, Larry Corriea and even earlier, John Scalzi had also used internet platforms to connect directly with fans to produce debut novels in science fiction and fantasy which had segued into deals with traditional publishers.

While Chambers’s novel took a turn away from the emotionally harrowing aspects of the genre, the other novel receiving even more buzz than most was the first novel in N.K.Jemisin’s new series: The Fifth Season. The book starts with the intentional starting of a planet-wide cataclysm and the murder of a child and goes on to follow three characters at different times as they experience variously a world plunged into a tectonic disaster, child-enslavement and exploitation by a brutal regime of a subset of the population with strange powers. The author has stated that the novel is fantasy but the story weaved both fantasy and science-fiction tropes together which itself lead to fans embroiling themselves in the unresolvable discussion of where the difference between the two sibling genres lie.

Mixing three different viewpoints and three different styles of writing, The Fifth Season was the sort of novel that invited debate and this was further fuelled by the story finishing with the kind of twists more common in short fiction than multi-book fantasies.

Let the lists begin!

More than ever, fans were paying attention to what had been published in 2015. With the Hugo Nominations set to open in early 2016, people were keenly aware of the events of the previous year. While there were no overt moves for a left-wing version of the Sad Puppies 3 campaign, fans on multiple platforms were talking about and collating what they had read the previous year and what was eligible in which category. The fear was that Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies would once again sweep the Hugo Categories and the one weapon his opponents had was lots of sci-fi fans and their love of books.

However, the strategy of mobilising lots of fans to collate what books they liked was not a strategy confined to the opponents of Vox Day. Elsewhere the fourth iteration of Sad Puppies was underway and it would prove to be a very different kind of hound than its kennel mates.

Next Time: The Ironic Tale of Sad Puppies 4


29 thoughts on “Debarkle Chapter 52: Part 4 Puppy Fall 2016-2017

  1. Anakin:
    “What was more notable was the route through which the book had been published. Chambers had used the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter in 2015 as a way to get enough funding to spend time finishing her novel. ”

    Thus gaining the admiration of the Puppies, who strongly supported authors who were more independent of the traditional publishing houses, right?

    Anakin : ___

    Padme: Right?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Anakin: the novel took a turn towards more positive themes

      Padme: Thus gaining the admiration of the Puppies, who strongly supported authors who were publishing Superversive positive fiction, right?


      Padme: Right?

      Liked by 5 people

  2. “…the long-standing rivalry between Tor and … Baen…”

    Is this really accurate? Sure there are Pups both sad and rabid who claim that Tor are the enemy and not a few anti-pups who won’t read Baen (though as long as they have Bujold that will never be an absolute refusal from a lot of us, I suspect) but the companies themselves? If I recall, Tom Doherty was a major supporter of Jim Baen and Baen Books from the beginning and remains a major shareholder in the company while still being mostly in charge of Tor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could see an argument for a rivalry between the fans of the two publishers, but even there I suspect the majority of the SF genre is like “More books! More publishers! Great!”

      Especially in these days of ever-more-often-consolidating publishers.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, the only Tor-Baen corporate rivalry exists in the minds of Puppies, not IRL. Your facts are correct.

      Heck, Baen still sends ARCs to the Dread Scalzi all the time.

      Bujold’s “Penric and Desdemona” series isn’t with Baen, though (except in collections). It’s been over 5 years since she’s published a Vorkosigan novel. Even the older Vor novels are now in ebook not from Baen (which means the covers aren’t so fugly and boob-y).


      1. In the way that every publisher is in theory a rival to every other, yes, but not in the ways that imply a particular and personal rivalry.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sorry I hear rivalry between publishers and I am thinking about Marvel and DC. (Which not all fans are part of)


      3. You can’t have a one-sided rivalry, Camestros. If that were true, then Beale and Scalzi have a rivalry instead of Beale constantly flinging himself at Scalzi like a stalker.

        Tor and Baen have no rivalry, though Weisskopf and some others at Baen may complain about editors at Tor for their own personal reasons. Tor is the largest SFF publishing arm in the U.S. and large in the U.K. and is part of one of the giant global corporate publishers that dominate book publishing. Baen Books is a medium sized SFF publisher concentrated mainly in the U.S. and has been started and funded with the help of Tom Doherty of Tor and others who worked for Tor, as did Baen. It would not be particularly strange if one day Tor/Macmillan buys Baen Books up. Or possibly Simon & Schuster, their distributors who also helped fund the publisher.

        If Tor wants to license a book, Baen Books is not going to be able to best Tor in a book auction or other possible contest for that book. There simply is no comparison between the two, other than that they are both SFF concentrated publishers. Baen Books is well respected as the most sizable independent SFF house, and in that capacity, Tor, as a large house, treats Baen like other large houses treat small and medium sized publishers — as a potential farm team which might get a really good title/author and the larger house then can do a licensing deal with the author for a future book, including doing a novella with that can then be distributed as short novels in book form.

        So it is simply not possible for Baen Books to “rival” Tor in the business. DAW Books (though DAW has resources from distributor and office provider giant Random Penguin that Baen does not) or a house like Pyr Books are SFF publishers of medium size that Baen can rival in business sales, competing for authors, etc. But Tor, Orbit, Harper, etc. are way up above Baen’s orbit at this point.

        The one area where they can be rivals is their authors competing for awards (though again they share a number of authors.) That is a friendly rivalry, or at least it was until perhaps the Puppies. But while Baen can compete for Best Novel and such prizes, it has the same problem as medium publishers like DAW Books, Pyr and other houses that are not giant corporate imprints — it doesn’t have as many of the biggest, most talked about books. It will sometimes get a slot, but it won’t dominate and it won’t be seen as a major rival for acquiring award-winning authors. For Tor and other large houses, Baen doing well at awards is not a bad thing that needs to be countered, especially if they can do other projects with Baen’s award-winning authors.

        So the “rivalry” between the two houses was mostly just cooked up fantasy by Puppy authors who keep trying to paint Baen as their own gated community, much as worked for Trump in the 2016 election. That has been largely detrimental to Baen Books in the field over the last five years or so, though give it a few more years and a lot of people won’t know or forget it. But Tor does not nor ever has seen Baen Books as its rival.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ah, Reason: America’s most oxymoronically-named magazine.

        Equating ‘civil libertarian’ with ‘libertarian’ reminds me of a joke I heard many years ago from a Polish acquaintance:

        What’s the difference between socialism and democratic socialism?

        It’s kind of like the difference between a chair and an electric chair.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Kat’s right. It isn’t a rivalry unless there’s two parties actively involved. If only one of them thinks there’s a rivalry, then it’s just a fixation. The way you’ve phrased it is… well… wrong if you care about what words mean in English.

        Tor really DGAF what Baen is up to. It’s only the Barflies and Puppies that think there’s a rivalry.

        I mean, EGG has a rivalry with the birds outdoors, but they ignore him because he’s always inside.


  3. Tyop patrol reproting in:

    “Toni Weiskopff” should be “Weisskopf”.

    “Bowie’s long and mercurial career had been underlined by the release just two days earlier by his final album Blackstar” — final “by” should be “of” — I think — “release of his final album”

    “On-going series such as Ann Leckie’s Radch Trilogy had new entries including Charles Stross adding to his long-running Laundry series with The Annihilation Score” — This sounds a bit like Stross had added to Leckie’s series. How about — “Ongoing series, like Ann Leckie’s Radch trilogy and Charles Stross’s long-running Laundry series, had new entries …” Also, “ongoing” is one word, no hyphen.

    “The author has stated that the novel is fantasy … which itself lead to fans embroiling themselves in the unresolvable discussion of where the difference between the two sibling genres lie.” “lead” should be “led”. Don’t worry — everyone gets this wrong. “lie” at the end should be “lies”.

    And hey, I learned a new word — psephological! Fortunately I looked it up before saying “This is the weirdest spelling of psychological I ever saw.”

    Liked by 5 people

  4. In the paragraph about the Syrian civil war:

    ” To add to the powder-key element of the conflict, the USA and Russia”



  5. Tyopishness: Jim Butcher’s new steampunk series The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

    The Cinder Spires is the series title, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first (and still only) novel in the series.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. You need a [6] in the text for your Syrian Civil War footnote.

    >Chambers though had but added emphasis
    had put

    >N.K.Jemisin’s new series: The Fifth Season.
    need a space after K.

    >The author has stated that the novel is fantasy
    Yes, but at the same time saying it was inspired by a NASA sponsored science workshop.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. The deaths of Prince and Bowie, sure, but why no mention of Lemmy? The death of an immortal should surely be a very ominous portent of things to come.


      1. I don’t know, I saw him on stage about 25 years ago and I’m not sure “alive” really fit 100% even back then.

        (Drunk enough he got booed for it by other drunken Irish people.)


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