As a route to popular mainstream success in publishing science fiction, the controversy generated by the Puppy campaigns was not a winning strategy. Even on the side opposed to the Puppy campaigns, the main beneficiaries of increased traffic were blogs and fanzines. While opposing the Puppy campaigns didn’t hurt people’s writing careers it did not, on the whole, boost them. Alexandria Erin’s astute parodies and observations of the Puppies had given her a social media audience which grew further as she segued those skills into political commentary in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.
On the pro-Puppy side, there was no obvious damage to Larry Correia’s publishing success but he had already found his audience and a sympathetic publisher. Other Puppies such as Sarah Hoyt, Kate Paulk, and Dave Freer were already disgruntled with traditional publishing and by 2015 had increasingly seen hope in publishing ebooks independently through the vast markets created by Amazon and ebook readers such as the Kindle.
From a purely commercial standpoint, the apparent winner of the drawn-out Puppy conflict was erotic author Chuck Tingle. Already something of a phenomenon, his inclusion in the Rabid Puppy slate and then his subsequent subversion of that by counter-trolling Vox Day, had led to further media coverage and interest in his bizarre social media presence. Tingle had also involved himself in the US Presidential campaign in 2016 with his own website alleging Trump was communing with an alternative horror dimension Tingle calls the void. There Tingle also promoted a new line of his “Tingler” ebooks about a closely related character called Domald Tromp which featured Tingle’s style of titles that mix contemporary news topics with sexual situations e.g. Domald Tromp’s Ass is Haunted by the Handsome Ghost of his Incriminating Tax Returns.
Tingle’s success rested on his genuine talent and creativity but it also illustrated an issue with the publishing space in which he had prospered. Tingle’s books were all self-published via Amazon and his initial books were quasi-parodies of the multitudinous forms of erotica available on ebooks. The vast number of books available on Amazon created niche audiences eager to consume more content but also made it difficult for authors to make a name for themselves and stand out from the crowd.
Larry Correia had built his own successful writing career by first marketing to a sympathetic audience in online pro-gun communities. His aggressive debate style and unapologetic politics had done him little harm commercially because his approach played well with his audience and the content of his books. Alienating science fiction fans of more liberal politics was not undermining his own career as it bolstered loyalty among his established fans and brought in more readers sympathetic to his political views. Correia also actively promoted other writers by organising so-called “book bombs” which encouraged readers to buy a specific book within a short time period to boost the book’s Amazon rating. In a crowded ebook world, profile, patronage and politics could all serve to make an aspiring author just that little bit more noticed.
Recent chapters of this project looked at how two supporters of the 2015 Puppy campaigns promoted their works through the events of 2016. Declan Finn and Brian Niemeier had each featured in the list generated by the Sad Puppies 4 book recommendation lists. For Niemeier, this had translated into being included in Vox Day’s 2016 Rabid Puppies slate for the Hugo Awards and for both Niemeier and Finn, this added profile had led to them being finalists for the 2016 Dragon Awards. Niemeier went on to win the Best Horror category in the Dragon Awards for his space opera after Vox Day recommended it in his final voting list for the 2016 Dragons.
Of Day’s picks of 2016 Dragon Award finalists, six of the seven novels went on to win that year. Whether that was just smart choices on Day’s part or the voting power of his followers is an open question. Yet both he and Correia had demonstrated that their patronage could draw attention to books by new authors. Additionally, attaching a cult-war narrative to the publishing of a book was now a demonstrated way of drawing attention and support from right-wing online communities.
In February of 2016 former soldier, actor and writer Nick Cole announced that he had been “banned by the publisher”. Cole had already published a few books with Harper Collins including a trilogy of post-apocalyptic books and a novel Soda Pop Soldier in which gamers fight a virtual reality war for corporations. It was the sequel (or rather prequel) to Soda Pop Soldier that led to the dispute. Cole had planned for the story to feature a Terminator-style AI rebellion and for motivation, he had decided that the AI at the source of the rebellion would deduce that humanity would kill it after watching a reality TV show in which a character has an abortion.
“The Thinking Machines realize that one, if humanity decides something is a threat to its operational expectations within runtime (Thinking Machine-speak for “life”) then humanity’s decision tree will lead humanity to destroy that threat. Two, the machines, after a survey of humanity’s history, wars, and inability to culturally unite with even members of its own species, realize that humanity will see this new Life Form, Digital Intelligence or the Thinking Machines, as a threat. And three, again they remind themselves this is the most watched show in the world. And four, they must abort humanity before likewise is done to them after being deemed ‘inconvenient.’”https://nickcolebooks.com/the-ctrl-alt-revolt-controversy/
Cole’s editor (according to Cole) took issue with this aspect of the novel and Cole refused to change it and in a blog post (a version of which is quoted above) gave his reasons. Believing that he’s destroyed his chance of publishing the book, Cole later stated that something “wonderful” then happened.
“I took a friend of mine to get a hot dog and told him what had befallen me. This friend was a member of a secret writer group made up of many different types of people who were tired of the Tastemakers choosing who they thought was acceptable. Choosing who would get to go forward in publishing and “play for the major leagues.” As it were. The people in this wild conspiracy group I was being introduced to felt that writers should advance in their careers based on merit. Not race, gender, or being a particularly vociferous advocate of the Weather Cultist Religion. Men, women, left, right. Gay, straight. They were there. And one of them, one of those writers had long been decrying the blatant left-wing bias in Big Publishing, pointing out how they had hurt him, and others, by bullying, marginalizing, and constant vicious personal attacks that often verged into the incredulous merely because they dissented philosophically regarding politics or religion. They called this writer crazy and said, and believe me this seemed audacious then given the current no-holds-barred take-no-prisoners-live-fire status on the culture war of the present, that there was no such thing as a “Left Wing Bias” in publishing. They actually said that like it was the truth. Said it with a straight face, in fact. Can you believe that? No. No one does.”ibid
The surprise twist is the writer Cole is discussing is, of course, Larry Correia. Cole’s blog post became widely shared and Correia featured Cole’s situation on his own blog, stating:
“Here is the beautiful part… For decades the left held all the power. Readers are sick of their shit. The fact that standing up to them can actually be a sales boost demonstrates that their power is waning. You know why I talk about the size of my royalty checks? Because nothing pisses the bullies off more than being successful despite their best efforts to trash you.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2016/02/10/left-wing-bias-in-publishing-your-wrongthink-will-be-punished/
Vox Day also promoted Cole’s account stating:
“Both Sarah Hoyt and I have previously written about the ideological gatekeepers in publishing, a situation that has persisted for at least 20 years and has continually gotten worse over time. The SJWs in science fiction deny it, of course, and they’ve been able to get away with doing so because most authors are afraid to talk for fear of their careers being destroyed. But the ability to publish independently is eliminating that fear:”https://web.archive.org/web/20181206052300/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-sf-gatekeepers-strike-again.html
Day would later in the year republish Cole’s novel (Ctrl Alt Revolt) via Castalia House and promoted it for the Dragon Awards where it won the Best Apocalyptic Novel category. Cole would go on to develop a successful series of military science-fiction novels published under his own independent label.
As Correia had explained and as Day had attempted to implement with Castalia House, successfully publishing books and boosting sales with culture war rhetoric was a win-win. Fight the SJWs and make money!
Was this a template that could be replicated and what were the parameters for success?
Jon Del Arroz was a Californian fan who had enjoyed some success with a superhero webcomic called Flying Sparks. In 2016 he’d moved into writing novels with a tie-in book to a spaceship themed card game Star Realms. Del Arroz’s book had received favourable plugs from its editor Jennifer Brozek but was also featured on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. At the time, Del Arroz’s bio read:
“Jon Del Arroz began his writing career in high school, providing book reviews and the occasional article for the local news magazine, The Valley Citizen. From there, he went on to write a weekly web comic, Flying Sparks, which has been hailed by Comic Book Resources as ‘the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics.’ He has several published short stories, most recently providing flash fiction for AEG’s weird west card game, Doomtown: Reloaded, and a micro-setting for the Tiny Frontiers RPG. Star Realms: Rescue Run is his debut novel.”https://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/favorite-bit-jon-del-arroz-talks-star-realms-rescue-run/
But Jon Del Arroz was more than a fan and a writer, he was also a self-described “veteran of the Great Meme War Of 2016, Kekistani Citizen and #PepLivesMatter activist”, experienced with the ways of 4Chan and a supporter of Donald Trump. Del Arroz had also previously had political ambitions, having made a brief run to be a Republican Party candidate for Congress in 2009.
However, on his public-facing blog, he avoided political controversy through the tumults of 2016. That approach changed in January 2017. Later, in court documents, Del Arroz would state that he received substantial hostility because of his support for Donald Trump both from strangers and from people he knew in his fan and author communities.
Del Arroz had been a participant in his local convention BayCon for several years but early in 2017, he learned that he was not being invited as a speaker for the 2017 event due to a shift in policy at the con. He reacted by claiming that he was being ostracized because of his politics.
“This was a wanton act of discrimination, and perhaps more importantly, a show of utter disinterest in promoting prominent local science fiction authors. With a supposed emphasis on diversity, this act done to a Hispanic author casts an even darker shadow. It’s about as disturbing as it gets to see folk that you considered friends for years treat you with that level of disregard, while in the same stripe ignoring attendees who deliver me death threats.https://delarroz.com/2017/02/09/bringing-home-the-baycon-or-what-i-learned-from-being-blackballed/
Most shockingly, the event organizers (of whom I know very well and very personally) in question did not respond personally, but delivered a form letter to explain the ostracization. It’s disingenuous and displays a dismissal and dehumanization of which I could hardly conceive.”
The convention organisers explained that was not the case but rather it was a natural consequence of the convention trying to include more speakers and that Del Arroz had already been pre-invited for 2018 as a speaker.
“There never has, nor ever will be any decisions made to invite or not invite guests based on their political beliefs or personal philosophies. Every decision we make in regards to who participates in our con as a guest always takes into consideration our theme and focus for the year. Each decision is made professionally, communicated professionally, and always comes down to a group decision by executive and programming staff.”BayCon statement quoted at http://file770.com/jon-del-arroz-off-baycon-2017-program-claims-decision-is-politically-motivated/
Del Arroz’s framing of not being included in a convention’s programming as being “blackballed” and discriminated against for his politics was elevated as cause célèbre among the network of right-wing authors including Nick Cole, Brian Niemeier, Declan Finn and, of course, Vox Day. Thus began what court documents would later allege was:
“a marketing strategy that involves pitting himself against other professionals in the science fiction industry in order to increase his visibility in the media and on social media sites.”Memorandum: Points and Authorities San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. SFSFC, 18CV334547 Jonathan Del Arroz vs San Francisco Conventions, Inc. et al 2/19/2021 retrived from https://portal.scscourt.org/case/MTk2MTAwMA==
As well as the immediate dispute with people connected to BayCon, in early February 2017, Del Arroz was in dispute with Baen author Sharon Lee who ended up having to ban him from her Facebook wall. On his blog Del Arroz stated
“My interactions with Sarah Hoyt and Larry Correia have been far different than with leftist author Sharon Lee as an example. The first two hardly know me at all, but have promoted my book, been encouraging to me and others, been stellar people all the way around. The truth is the exact opposite of what’s whispered (and sometimes shouted) about them at sci-fi convention halls. By contrast, I’d been a staunch fan of Ms. Lee for years, have all of her and her husband’s work including self-printed chapbooks. They know me, and don’t like me first because I’m openly Christian (another story), which bothers them for whatever reason. Even though my novel contained a lot of homage to them, and probably would appeal heavily to their fans, they wouldn’t lift a finger in that regard. When the going got tough with politics, Ms. Lee turned her social media into a hate fest. She called me names and blocked me instead of standing by me. That’s the difference between the two sides at this juncture. As Vox Day said, SJWs have no loyalty, and despite Dario’s call for civility, one has to remember that truth.”https://delarroz.com/2017/02/16/friendship-in-the-time-of-sjws/
Del Arroz’s objections to Lee would continue into 2017. On a new alt-right sympathetic social media platform Gab, Del Arroz called for people on the site to help him troll Lee.
“If anyone is a fan of Sharon Lee — super SJW author who hates me, getting ready to troll her by tagging on twitter/facebook with these. Would love some help. Even if not a fan, can still tag”Jon Del Arroz on Gab (@otomo) quoted in a comment at his blog https://delarroz.com/2017/07/21/more-sci-fi-fake-news-dishonesty/#comment-983
Sharon Lee was just the start of a series of social media conflicts from Arroz during 2017 with unwanted social media harassment towards people such as fan writers Shaun Duke and Paul Weimer, SFWA President Cat Rambo, Setsu Uzume, and the Codex Writers forum among others.
The ensuing disputes brought Del Arroz both conflict and publicity but also status among the broader cloud of right-wing writers and fans associated with the past Puppy campaigns. Del Arroz’s opinions and works would be further amplified by Vox Day whose blog and status as a significant alt-right figure was gaining him even further attention as the first year of Donald Trump’s Presidency raised the political temperature.
We will be meeting Jon Del Arroz again as we follow the events of 2017 within science fiction conventions and awards but also beyond when the alt-right looks for new fronts in the culture wars.
Next Time: The Sad Demise of SP5
-  https://www.patreon.com/AlexandraErin
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Tingle
-  https://www.trumpdebatefacts.com/ and also the parody Trump Whitehouse restaurant https://www.maganightatthewhitehouse.com/
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20170119085442/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-dragon-awards.html
-  https://nickcolebooks.com/about-me/
-  http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?35196
-  https://www.starrealms.com/
-  https://jennifer-brozek.livejournal.com/258083.html
-  https://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/favorite-bit-jon-del-arroz-talks-star-realms-rescue-run/
-  https://delarroz.com/2017/02/11/the-art-of-the-troll/ and more on the meme war of 2016 here https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/03/memes-4chan-trump-supporters-trolls-internet-214856/
-  https://delarroz.com/2017/01/13/what-you-like-is-literally-hitler/
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20190225113759/https://www.lodinews.com/news/article_8c99bbaa-a998-5534-968f-47e3f314ce23.html
-  Del Arroz Declaration 2/7/2019 18CV334547 Jonathan Del Arroz vs San Francisco Conventions, Inc. et al retrived from https://portal.scscourt.org/case/MTk2MTAwMA==
-  https://delarroz.com/2017/02/03/the-trolling-accusation/
-  https://www.jimchines.com/2018/01/jon-del-arroz/