2017 was a year in which the left was discombobulated, the centre was lost and the right was emboldened. Contrariwise, the culture war in Science Fiction had passed its zenith and right had taken its football to play different games elsewhere. Worldcon, the SFWA and science fiction literary awards would still have both internal cultural conflicts as well as ideological stoushes with the ascendant alt-right but 2015 had been the high tide of such battles. From 2017 onward, the yardstick for culture-war like conflicts within science fiction would be framed in terms of “puppies”.
In an apparent bid to make the historiography of the Debarkle easier, multiple members of 2014’s Evil League of Evil banded together to publish an anthology entitled “Forbidden Thoughts”. The title, evocative of Harlan Ellison’s never fully completed Dangerous Visions anthologies, was predicated on the idea that the last bastion of transgressive ideas in speculative fiction is reactionary conservatism. The contents included:
- A foreword by Breitbart columnist and GamerGate figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos
- A story by Sarah Hoyt based on the birth of Moses
- A story by Vox Day about women soldiers
- A story by Brad Torgersen about a world with strange genders in which there is a perhaps mythical land where there “were simply boys and girls, women and men”
- A story by John C. Wright with a talking dog
- “The left’s 20 rules for Racism” by Tom Kratman
- A history of the Sad Puppies by Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen
In addition, there were stories by L. Jagi Lamplighter (John C. Wright’s wife and editor & mentor for Brian Niemeier and John Del Arroz), Puppy sympathiser Ray Blank, and an allegorical story by Nick Cole in which a spaceflight goes wrong because of the actions by characters with names close to those of John Scalzi and N.K. Jemisin. The whole thing was edited by Jason Rennie of twice Puppy nominated Sci-Phi Press and published by Superversive Press, the pro-Puppy blog associated with Rennie and Lamplighter.
Yiannopoulos’s introduction set the tone with an overt reference to Vox Day.
“The final important thing to know about SJWs is they are incapable of telling the truth. They often have dark reasons for their mendacious nature—there have been a continuous stream of cases where SJWs, held up as paragons of virtue defending women, minorities and LGBT people from the disgusting bigotry of regular fans, are actually proven to be abusers, rapists and pedophiles.”Yiannopoulos, Milo; Kratman, Tom; Cole, Nick; Correia, Larry; Torgersen, Brad R.; Wright, John C.; Day, Vox; Lamplighter, L. Jagi; Hoyt, Sarah A.; Niemeier, Brian; Freeman, A.M. ; Oxide, Chrome; Shumak, E.J. ; Blank, Ray ; Ward, Matthew ; Young, Joshua M. ; Hallquist, David ; Oka, Pierce ; Lebak, Jane ; Zwycky, Ben. Forbidden Thoughts (p. 2). Superversive Press. Kindle Edition.
After multiple references to the 2016 Ghostbuster film, he went on to say:
“As a final promise, if the fight against SJWs in science fiction remains strong, I will write my own story for inclusion in a future volume of Forbidden Thoughts. Think about how many tears that will cause to rain down!”ibid
Yianopoulos would not fulfil this promise.
Correia and Torgersen meanwhile portrayed the 2015 Sad Puppies 3 campaign with a metaphor mixed with Donald Trump and Animal House.
“The CHORFs lost by winning. Sort of like how Hillary Clinton was the “popular” nominee, but Donald Trump is actually going to the White House. Proof that you can do everything right—have the superior press game, the superior money game, the superior celebrity endorsements, and all the favorables anyone could desire—and still blow it.”ibid
As for Blutarsky, John Belushi’s character from Animal House, we are reassured that “he switched parties, to the Republican side—in the wake of 9/11/2001.”
Saturday Night Live alumni aside, Forbidden Thoughts was the rooftop concert finale of the Evil League of Evil (plus guests). Politics and surprise electoral success had driven the league apart and increasingly the original members pretended that Vox Day (in particular) had never existed.
Forbidden Thoughts was something of a swan song also for Milo Yianopoulos. The book was released in January 2017 but by February things had begun to unravel for Yianopoulos. After being scheduled to speak at the prestigious Conservative Political Action Conference, Yianopoulos was targeted by an anti-Trump/anti-alt right conservative group called The Reagan Battalion. The group promoted a set of videos of Yiannopoulos discussing his sexuality as a gay teenager from 2016. Yiannopoulos spoke frankly about saying
“paedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old, who is sexually mature”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milo_Yiannopoulos#Remarks_on_paedophilia_and_child_sexual_abuse
Unsurprisingly, these statements were not well received by a socially conservative group like CPAC. Yianopoulos had been courting controversy for over a year with college campus talks in which he singled out immigrant or transgender students for targeted harassment. In January of 2017, a speaking event he led at the University of Washington led to a protestor against the event being shot and wounded. This style of controversy, as well as GamerGate and the targeted harassment on social media of Black actor Leslie Jones, had not harmed Yianopoulos’s reputation among Republicans. Indeed, at the start of 2017, Yianopoulos enjoyed the patronage of the wealthy right-wing donor Robert Mercer and former Breitbart editor and now Trump advisor Steve Bannon.
However, Yiannopoulos’s comments on teenage sexuality undermined his growing status on the right. By the end of February, he had been pressured into resigning from Breitbart, and publisher Simon & Shuster had cancelled plans to publish his autobiographical book. Before the end of the year, revelations of Yiannopoulos’s direct ties with far-right extremists (including alt-right figure Richard Spencer) led to even Mercer and Bannon cutting ties with him.
If Yiannopoulos spent 2017 being abandoned by former allies, he was not to be abandoned by the erstwhile Evil League of Evil aka the Puppies (Sad & Rabid). As the controversy around Yiannopoulos statements about sex and children grew in February, Vox Day rallied to his defence calling it an “operation to destroy Milo”. Day, along with his allies Mike Cernovich and Stefan Molyneaux, framed the issue as the scandal actually being because Yiannopoulos was a crusader against paedophilia rather than an apologist for it.
“I think Stefan is probably right to see this as the most significant aspect of the whole situation, and that Milo has the opportunity to transform what has been a terrible time for him into his finest moment if he is willing and able to do what so many before him have not, and name the names of those who have been, and probably still are, preying on young men and boys today.”https://web.archive.org/web/20210808103451/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2017/02/a-sympathetic-call.html
Naturally, this reversal of events never actually took place.
John C. Wright, also believed that Yiannopoulos would be vindicated.
“The libels against Milo Yiannopoulos continue, but the still, small voice of truth is speaking also. Those who were deceived innocently at first now have no excuse. Within hours, an unedited version of the year-old conversation used to libel Milo was available, as were leaks from the press revealing that the attack was deliberate, coordinated, and duplicitous.https://www.scifiwright.com/2017/02/milo-and-the-bookstore/
If any man looks at the evidence, pro and con, and decides Milo is secretly an advocate for pedophilia rather than a victim of it and a public crusader whose work has put three pedophiles behind bars, I will not argue the point. At least he looked at the evidence. A man who condemns, sight unseen, a fellow human soul, taking the word of the Fake New media as gospel, that man has let partisanship overmaster his conscience and common sense.”
Wright followed up this plea in defence of Yiannopoulos with a plug for the book Forbidden Thoughts. The longer version of the video did show the longer argument Yiannopoulos had advanced but the gist of his comments was not substantially different viewed in the wider context. That Yiannopoulos’s comments were taken in the worst way possible by right-wing audiences should have been little surprise to both Wright and Day given their extensive campaign to link homosexuality with paedophilia. That a lack of subtlety and moral panic would be applied by conservatives to one of their allies took them by surprise.
At Sarah Hoyt’s blog, Kate Paulk announced “Je Suis Milo” and condemned those attacking Yiannopoulos.
“The diseased flaccid dicks who created this piece of rancid shit to smear the man are at least openly evil. The tight-assed moralists standing back-to-back with the people who should be their worst enemy are just as eager to control everyone else as the openly statist fuckwit throwing metaphorical (and sometimes literal) turd grenades. They think because they call themselves “conservative” it makes them good and righteous and proper, and all the while they’re arm in arm with Satan – who is happier than a pig in mud.”https://accordingtohoyt.com/2017/02/24/je-suis-milo-yanno-by-kate-paulk/
At Mad Genius Club, Dave Freer also rallied to Yiannopoulos’s defence.
“It’s a common feature of modern journalism: take elements that are obviously plainly true, leave out the bits that would spoil the spin you want to put on the individuals, and apply bias particularly in ways at least some of your audience are likely to want to believe. The attack on Milo Yanniopolous was a masterclass in this. It is long-term destructive if you’re supposedly writing fact, not fiction, but it is very useful for suspending disbelief in fiction. If you’re writing fiction and want to suspend disbelief it’s particularly instructive to see how the background was crafted.https://madgeniusclub.com/2017/02/27/the-illusion-of-reality/
It was no use having its source as a left wing website: the left has been trying to ‘normalize’ pre-pubescent paedophilia for generations, let alone post-pubescent sex. In sf – Delany has been a darling of theirs, the activities of Breen were well-known, and they tried to whitewash Marion Zimmer Bradley back into favor. They love Polanski and adore Dunham. It’s the right and center who regard it with disgust. A left-source of the carefully selectively edited material would have been treated with the disdain that the left wing would have treated right wing evidence of Hillary Clinton breaking security regulations or laughing at getting a rapist to walk free. So: they faked a right wing site… And of course there are parts of the US right (I believe that neo-Nazi fellow was delighted by it) eager to believe the worst of a flamboyant homosexual, from that sort of source.”
Sarah Hoyt went further, warning her readers that “If they take Milo down, you’re next” and followed that with her own musings about the age of consent.
“This is where Milo got into overthinking, when he started discussing how strictly speaking pedophiles are attracted to those people who haven’t undergone puberty (or are undergoing puberty.) He’s absolutely right, but he was perhaps over-intellectualizing. The truth is that laws of consent usually slice the do no harm/prevent harm very finely indeed, and are set when most of the population of the country can be assumed to have passed through and undergone puberty.https://accordingtohoyt.com/2017/02/22/if-they-take-milo-down-youre-next/
For instance the age of consent in Portugal is 14. By 11 I had undergone menarche. My best friend, OTOH, didn’t go through it till 16. However hers was very late, and doctors were involved. Most people got it at 12. So 14 seems like a fairly safe age of consent. You’re not going to prevent people who go through it earlier from having sex (OTOH I found an interest in physics and electronics prevented me pretty effectively till much, much older.) But you want to discourage outright predators. So 14 is about right for Portugal.
Do I mean girls of 14 (or boys for that matter) know what they’re doing? No. But I also don’t think they know what they’re doing at 18. Left to me, I’d set the age of consent at thirty, and human population would plummet.”
The age of consent issue also got Brad Torgersen musing on the question. Citing the example of Calvin Graham who had enlisted in the US Navy at age 12 after Pearl Harbour, Torgersen considered what is the right age for “Working? Driving? Voting? Drinking? Getting laid?”.
“It seems to me we’ve never quite figured out (as a society) what we’re comfortable with. Especially regarding the last two items.Besides, biological age doesn’t always correlate to emotional age. I think all of us know people in our circles, or within the family, who are way more emotionally mature (or way less emotionally mature) than their biological age would seem to suggest.”https://www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/1800805023279056
The Forbidden Thoughts anthology would also be promoted by Jon Del Arroz later in 2017 as part of a bizarre campaign.
In 2017, Wisconsin science fiction & fantasy convention Odyssey Con unwisely included former Tor editor James Frenkel in the position of Guest Liasion for the con. Frenkel was the subject of serious sexual harassment complaints in 2013. As a consequence Frenkel left Tor and was also banned from WisCon, another notable Wisconsin convention. Author Monica Valentinelli had been invited as a Guest of Honour for the 2017 Odyssey Con and when discovering Frenkel’s involvement had informed the organisers that she had in the past “several uncomfortable interactions with this individual and I did not feel safe around him”. Frenkel was removed as her point of contact for the convention but as the date for the convention approached Valentinelli learned that Frenkel was not only still involved but they were scheduled together for some events. Raising her concerns again with the con but found their response to be dismissive. Not feeling safe in attending, Valentinelli withdrew. In the ensuing mishandling of the convention’s response, other notable authors withdrew from the convention as well.
Eager to exploit an opportunity for a book promotion, Jon Del Arroz announced his own response to the events.
“A couple of weeks ago, an invited headlining guest flaked on a convention, OdysseyCon. No notice was given, no accommodations were asked for, simply bailing two weeks before it happened, leaving the fans without an honored guest. The Con responded professionally and nicely, trying to work things out as much as possible, but that wasn’t enough for this person who took to social media, and got a cabal of angry virtue signallers to start swearing, berating and attacking anyone they could.https://delarroz.com/2017/04/25/authors-who-care-about-fans-and-readers/
The people who are left in the dust are fans, innocent folk who just wanted to spend a weekend hanging out, playing games, talking science fiction, listening to some authors speak and having a good time in fellowship. None of these virtue signallers thought or cared about the fans. It’s frankly shameful and unprofessional.”
Del Arroz avoided discussing the reason why Valentinelli had withdrawn but offered instead a book bundle for attending members of OdysseyCon. The bundle included the Forbidden Thoughts anthology (“featuring incredible stories by Baen Books authors Sarah Hoyt, Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen and more!”) as well as works by Nick Cole, Sarah Hoyt, Declan Finn, John C. Wright, L. Jagi Lamplighter, as well as less notable authors eager for the associated publicity.
Del Arroz’s April 25 post promoting the book bundle was followed the next day with his Dragon Award recommendations. Of the novel categories, all but two were authors from the bundle and the first exception was Vox Day’s A Sea of Skulls . Del Arroz’s picks were then given a further signal boost by Vox Day who linked to them from his blog.
When the Dragon Award finalists were announced, seven works that were either in the bundle or recommended in Del Arroz’s Dragon Award picks were finalists, along with other works suggested by Vox Day or by people connected with the Superversive SF blog. The capacity for multiple right-wing groups or figures to influence the Dragon Award finalists appeared to be significant.
Gaining nominations was one thing but winning was another. Brian Niemeier, who had improbably won the inaugural Dragon Award for Best Horror in 2016 with a space opera novel, hoped to frame the final vote as a culture war. Among the finalists in 2017 was John Scalzi and Niemeier was keen to present his book as the only way to prevent the “SJWs” from winning.
“But we can’t rest on our laurels. The Dragons are an open contest, and that openness brings with it the risk of dirty tricks–like the CHORFs pulled when they shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to stuff the ballot box at the Hugos under the guise of “scholarships”. That’s why we have to stay focused and present a united front to keep the entryists from gaining a foothold. As indies, our greatest advantage is also our greatest drawback. It’s nigh impossible to get a small group of us to agree on pizza toppings, never mind which books to support. But the SF SJWs are a fun-destroying monolith, and they’ve declared their intention to overrun the Dragon Awards. We who prize fun science fiction over nagging civics lectures must hang together or hang separately.”https://brianniemeier.com/2017/08/2017-dragon-award-finalist-secret-kings/
Niemeier’s call to action for a new culture war had not anticipated that the other side might not be very interested in fighting. John Scalzi promptly withdrew his book from consideration.
“The reason is simple: Some other finalists are trying to use the book and me as a prop, to advance a manufactured “us vs. them” vote-pumping narrative based on ideology or whatever. And I just… can’t. I don’t have the interest and I’m on a deadline, and this bullshit is even more stale and stupid now than it was the several other times it was attempted recently, with regard to genre awardshttps://whatever.scalzi.com/2017/08/07/withdrawing-from-the-dragon-awards-2017/
My plan was to ignore it, but on further reflection (and further evidence that this nonsense was going to continue through the finalist voting period), I decided this was the better course. To the extent this bullshit manufactured narrative is centered on me, well, now it’s not, as far as these awards are concerned. I’m delighted to be able to chop it off at the knees by removing myself from consideration. I wish the progenitors of this narrative luck; now they will have to compete with the other finalists on the basis of the quality of their work instead. They’re going to need all the help they can get with that.”
Other authors followed suit including Alison Littlewood. Unbeknownst to her, her book the Hidden People had been included in Vox Day’s slate in the Best Horror category. She requested that her book be withdrawn from the award. To her surprise, Dragon Con said no in a letter to her from Pat Henry – the Dragon Con President
“Good morning Ms. Littlewood,Pat Henry in a letter to Alison Littlewood, quoted on her blog http://www.alisonlittlewood.co.uk/news-blog/another-statement-regarding-the-dragon-awards/
While I appreciate your sense of fair play, I must decline your request to remove The Hidden People from the Dragon Award Nominations. We are aware of the rabid puppies and justice warriors efforts to effect the voting and we go through a number of steps to avoid ballot stuffing or other vote rigging behaviors. While we didn’t start the Dragon Awards to foil these two groups, we believe that as we add voters, they will become irrelevant in the our awards.
We believe the “people’s choice” approach is a better way to recognize authors and their works. The Dragon Awards ballot – which consists of works nominated by fans – is a broad representation of the best science fiction and fantasy literature available today. With 53 novels listed, there is actually something for everybody on this ballot.
The original purpose of the Dragon Awards was not so much as awards but as a quality reading list. The cost of reading current material has been rising steadily for years. Library budgets are not adequate to have all, or even a decent collection of the type of materials that Dragon Con fans enjoy.
N.K. Jemisin also asked for her novel The Obelisk Gate to be withdrawn as well. The Dragon Award already had something of a legitimacy problem and with big-name authors treating a finalist spot as negative marketing, their response to Littlewood was devastatingly bad PR.
The Dragon Awards officially shifted their position saying:
“And then, over the last couple of days, we got an earful from our fans and others. The issue also caused a second author to ask us to remove her book from the ballot as well. We’ve reconsidered and changed our mind. This is what’s happening next.https://www.dragoncon.org/awards/a-new-day-and-a-fresh-perspective/
We have removed The Hidden People, by Ms. Littlewood, and The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin, from the 2017 Dragon Awards ballot and we will re-issue ballots to those people who voted for these two books. We believe that fans who voted in the Horror and Apocalyptic categories should have a second chance to vote. No new titles will be added to the ballot.”
John Scalzi withdrew his own withdrawal in a gesture of rapprochment with the convention.
“the folks at the Dragon Awards suggested they were willing to put in some work to listen and learn, and the honoring of Ms. Littlewood’s withdrawal request and their commitment to rethink aspects of their process was a good first step. Enough that I was willing to reconsider withdrawing from the ballot.”https://whatever.scalzi.com/2017/08/10/update-on-the-dragon-awards-and-me/
What remained mysterious was Pat Henry’s statement that “justice warriors” had attempted to affect the voting. With no obvious campaign from the left towards the Dragon Awards, people were puzzled by the claim until a group of Dragon Con fans calling themselves “The Red Panda Fraction” revealed themselves on Twitter.
The Dragon Awards were both a child of and a victim of culture wars within fandom but they were also a marker in the diminishing returns of the strategy of using right-wing fueled outrage to boost sales of books. GamerGate had petered out into irrelevance, the Sad Puppies had been defeated by the triple alliance of voting reform, apathy and internal infighting. There was though another arena that shared many of the features of both video games and science fiction fandom and it was an arena that Jon Del Arroz was already familiar with.
Del Arroz had scored a gig as a “journalist” at right-wing news outlet The Federalist and in April 2017 he launched into the newest front in the culture war: comics.
“I ran a Twitter search again, this time to investigate Marvel’s religious leanings. Marvel has writers who profess to be atheist, Jewish, and they even have a Muslim writer. Most writers, eager to speak out on their left-wing politics, don’t talk about their religion at all.https://thefederalist.com/2017/04/12/forcing-political-correctness-employees-characters-killing-marvel-comics/
I did find one oddity: out of the entire group, I did not find one writer that openly professed Christianity. On the contrary, many of the writers made comments mocking Christians or the Bible. It begs the question: does Marvel hold a latent religious intolerance toward Christians? Based on this research, it would appear so. I reached out to the Marvel writers listed above and Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief, Axel Alonso, but they declined to comment.”
This was not the first salvo in the wildly shambolic third attempt at a fandom specific culture (the first two being GamerGate and the Puppies) but it was a point at which attention shifted from one arena to another. The conflict known as Comicsgate will have to wait until another chapter but it managed a level of farcical toxicity that its predecessors, even at their most incompetent moments, couldn’t rival.
Fandom culture wars had always been a side-show to more mainstream politics but in 2017 they struggled not just with relevance but also in terms of outrage. National and international politics had taken a turn for the weird and dangerous in a way that both paralleled and exceeded the Puppy conflict. This was the Trump years and normal had taken a holiday.
Next time: Trump Year One
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Political_Action_Conference
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20170122013437/http://www.kiro7.com/news/local/man-shot-during-uw-event-for-milo-yiannopoulos/486520649
-  One of the actors in the women-led Ghostbusters reboot. The harassment of Jones by Yianopoulos’s followers led to him being permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 https://www.cbsnews.com/video/leslie-jones-leaves-twitter-amidst-onslaught-of-racist-tweets/
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Mercer
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20171006000933/https://www.buzzfeed.com/josephbernstein/heres-how-breitbart-and-milo-smuggled-white-nationalism?utm_term=.ogQJj2V5m7#.gbdEPxB6oJ https://web.archive.org/web/20171008080128/http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/interview-with-bartender-who-kicked-milo-yiannopoulos-out-of-karaoke-9948271 https://web.archive.org/web/20181217112143/https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/milo-yiannopoulos-nazi-salutes-video-karaoke-richard-spencer-white-nationalists-karaoke-bar-a7987486.html
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20180125085555/https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/bob-mercer-defunds-milo-yiannopoulos-sells-stake-in-breitbart https://web.archive.org/web/20171118125648/https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/steve-bannon-disowns-milo-yiannopoulos
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20210809004927/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2017/02/operation-destroy-milo.html
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvin_Graham
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Frenkel also covered in earlier chapters
-  http://file770.com/monica-valentinelli-withdraws-as-goh-of-odyssey-con/
-  http://file770.com/pixel-scroll-41217-blah-blah-blah-pixels-blah-blah-scroll/
-  https://delarroz.com/2017/04/26/896/
-  http://file770.com/dragons-and-puppies-and-innocent-bystanders-oh-my/
-  http://file770.com/pixel-scroll-83117-scrollfinger-hes-the-man-the-man-with-the-first-fifth-touch-a-pixels-touch/