Debarkle Chapter 65: Post Apupalypse 2018-2019

The protracted culture war for the soul of science fiction fandom was over…sort of. The broad social issues and responses to demographic and technological change were still ongoing. Issues of systemic bias and ingrained prejudice within fandom and publishing still existed. Fandom’s seemingly insatiable appetite for controversies and feuds was not going to end or even truly pause to catch a breath. Unravelling the distinction between personal differences, justifiable anger, aesthetic arguments and shitty behaviour had not been simplified. If anything, having faced down an almost caricature-like example of an antagonist (Vox Day even portrayed himself as supreme dark lord sitting on a throne of skulls) highlighted how complex non-Puppy related fannish disputes could be.

Nevertheless, during a time period in which many institutions in wealthy English speaking countries (and beyond) had found themselves pulled further to right by the rise of extreme nationalism, first the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and then Worldcon/WSFS/Hugo Awards had, in the end, seen off reactionary campaigns against increased representation for historically discriminated sections of society.

Vox Day had warned the SFWA that dire consequences would follow if he were expelled and many right-leaning figures within or previously associated with the SFWA had also warned that his expulsion in 2013 would lead to a disastrous rift in the organisation (see chapter 22). In reality, the SFWA did not collapse, implode or split into innumerable factions. While there were some attempts to establish “apolitical” rival organisations to the SFWA, none of these amounted to anything. The right-wing campaign against the organisation continued only in the form of harassment by internet trolls of SFWA officers, including SFWA President (2015-2019) Cat Rambo.

Although Day threatened legal action against the SFWA, the subsequent Puppy campaigns against the Hugo Awards actually comprised the major response to his expulsion. These campaigns mixed discontent from Day’s expulsion with some fans’ lingering resentment of perceived poor representation of Baen books at the Hugo Awards and a mix of self-promotion and broader culture-war sentiment. After a high point of activity in 2015 including a side-show boycott of Tor Books, the Puppy campaigns finally fizzled out in 2017.

The fears expressed in 2015 that the Puppy campaigns would lead the Hugos into a spiral of irrelevance, a battlefield of warring slates & counter-slates, or rule changes (such as shifting to a juried award) that would fundamentally change the character of the awards did not come to pass. The high profile win in 2016 of N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season helped reconfirm the status of the Hugo Awards as a leading indicator of future classics and rising stars.

Tor Books did not collapse, the publishing careers of Patrick Nielsen Hayden and (major target of the Tor Boycott) Irene Gallo continued to be successful. John Scalzi continued to write popular, best-selling science fiction.

Of the Puppies, by 2018 those whose careers had been doing well (such as Larry Correia) continued to prosper. Those whose traditional publishing careers had been in decline (such as John C. Wright and Sarah Hoyt) shifted further into independent publishing via Amazon. Reflecting recently on the events of 2015, John Scalzi noted:

“The best case scenario sees the most popular Pups more or less at the same level of sales and popularity as they were when the nonsense started; they were not hurt by it because they already had their fan bases, contracts and distribution, and their fan base was either sympathetic to their Pup positions, or didn’t know and/or care.”

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2021/09/12/thoughts-on-the-debarkle/ [1]

The Post Apupalyptic wasteland was one of the surprisingly few material consequences.

The Hugo Awards had upgraded its voting system to a more proportional system with more nominees and in the process of reforming the constitution had added new categories including the Best Series award. Memberships and voting levels did not remain at the same heights as in 2015 but the conflict had drawn in new members and newly active people in fan spaces.

However, the conflict lingered psychologically among fans connected with the Hugo Awards — a sense of vigilance or paranoia about potential new threats.

The Benedict Option

In 2017, conservative writer Rod Dreher[2] reacted to what he perceived as the growing acceptance of secular virtues in American society by proposing a kind of withdrawal from broader society by Christians into their own spaces. He called this approach “The Benedict Option” after the codification of medieval Catholic monastic orders by Saint Benedict[3].

Although most of the so-called Evil League of Evil were Christians of one kind or another, religion was rarely a centrepiece of the Puppy campaigns. They had been more motivated by worldly issues rather than spiritual ones. Nonetheless, in a kind of convergent evolution, the former Puppies adopted a kind of genre-based secular form of a Benedict Option. Where once upon time figures such as Michael Z. Williamson or Brad Torgersen might have been found commenting in mainstream fan spaces such as John Scalzi’s blog, the former Puppies retreated to their own blogs and Facebook pages.

In the social media of the former Puppies, the Hugo Awards rarely came up anymore, appearing only when the normal level of fannish disputes within Worldcon reached a sufficient level for them to notice and then only when the former Puppies could cite the latest event as evidence that the predicted collapse of the Hugo Awards had finally arrived.

Meanwhile…a Raison d’être

If fandom had survived 2015-2017 and passed through largely unscathed, the wider culture war had only grown. Nationalism was ascendant globally, racism and misogyny were finding new validation from elected politicians. Transgender people had become the new target of demonisation by the right (and beyond) after the failure of the culture warriors to stop marriage equality.

Right-wing stochastic terrorism was continuing and while the alt-right had failed to find unity in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, their willingness to find new outlets to organise and recruit had not lessened.

In May of 2015, I had begun erratically to follow and document in a scattershot way the views and statements of the Sad and Rabid Puppies. The connection to a broader cultural wave of reaction to modern society was something that I thought was obvious but not always well expressed. This wave of reaction was unorganised and often diffuse, expressed often incoherently or on apparently unrelated subjects and yet was a common thread running across phenomena as varied as Brexit and GamerGate. Indeed, this “thread” would take the form of individuals common to both, such as the YouTube GamerGate personality Sargon of Akkad later being the UKIP candidate and pro-Brexit campaigner Carl Benjamin[4].

If the net-material impact of the Puppy campaigns appears to have been very limited at best and counter-productive to their stated aims at worst, the question remained as to the impact on the political beliefs of its leading lights. Vox Day’s tactics and those of the alt-right, in general, had multiple aims but where they enjoyed the most success was in radicalising people who already held strong conservative views on race, immigration, nationality, militarism, gender or sexuality.

The Puppy campaigns had been many things but for the participants, they had been part of a political journey. While the Great Puppy Kefuffle of 2015 was truly over, that political journey was continuing. I decided to watch where it went.


Footnotes

47 thoughts on “Debarkle Chapter 65: Post Apupalypse 2018-2019

    1. Funny how that works for non-puppies as well. And there are more of us than there are of them. Law od unintended consequences time?

      Liked by 6 people

    2. It is quite something that no matter the subject of his post, he can somehow find a way to connect it to a plug for either that book or his Gundam fanfic. One could admire his consistency if BN wasn’t such a horrible person.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. As a member of the same tiny minority as Brian (white, Christian, male, cis), I’d like to point out that some of us hate him too. So the odds of him finding people he can give money to without violating his principles is pretty small. So sad.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, my husband hates BN and his kind too, even though hubs is SWM cis, Christian (kinda), AND older than the Puppies and Scrappies.

        Is it Brian or Declan who’s the total potty-mouth? Not the sort of language you’d use in church. Or polite company. Or around a lot of conservative Christians. I dunno, they all look alike to me. 😉

        Like

      1. I’m laughing because I read your comment and went “I thought I’d deleted that sentence!” because I’d initially overtly linked the Benedict option to transphobia…and then backtracked to a more generic “secular virtues” i.e. not demonising & persecuting people

        Liked by 2 people

        1. If only. Instead, he wants to force everyone to be as anti-trans (and as anti-liberal) as he is, if necessary at the point of a gun. His recent posts on Hungary is, and Viktor Orban, are quite something.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Yeah, go and play hermit and don’t let the door hit you on your way out. The world certainly isn’t going to miss Rod Dreher.

          Though I still wonder why transpeople elicit such an intense hatred in some people. Transpeople are not harming anybody, they’re not forcing others to become trans, all they want is to live the way they want to.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Also – and this isn’t a big deal but does seem worth mentioning – we mostly prefer “trans people” to “transpeople”. Trans is an adjective, like rich, poor, white, fannish, or cis.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Structuralist anthropologists argue that things, people, animals etc. which cross boundaries have power, and this can take the form of upsetting people who don’t like the idea that boundaries can be crossed. Trans people are a good example of people who cross boundaries, moving from one gender to another gender, which makes those who’d like to think that those boundaries are rigid feel very uncomfortable.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I agree – I don’t think it’s coincidental that a lot of anti-trans people are of an authoritarian bent. They simply can’t stand it when other people don’t follow what they have decided are The Rules.

              TERFs, I just don’t get. I don’t see how ensuring womens’ rights for trans women harms me in any way. It seems to me like a continuation of – a buy-in to, and a perpetuation of – sexism and misogyny, to insist that All Women Must Conform To Traditional Rules. I think it indicates an unease with, and lack of confidence in, one’s own identity, to feel that someone else’s identity somehow harms one’s own identity.

              But then, I’m a total tomboy and geek, and I’ve always been a renegade and a rule-breaker. So anyone who thinks they have the right to dictate other peoples’ identity is an asshole in my lexicon.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. From what they write on Reddit, TERFs reject the idea that there is any difference between male brains and female brains. But a trans woman is someone who (implicitly) claims to have a female brain in a male body. TERFs reject that as impossible. In their view, trans people should just get over it.

              I’ll make an analogy with discrimination against short people. This is unjustified in almost every case (except maybe basketball players), but it does exist. If people fighting this discrimination used the same strategy TERFs use, they would argue that height is just a social construct and that short people are really the same height as tall people. Anyone trying to argue the contrary would be denounced as a bigot. And they’d roundly condemn anyone who got medical treatment for dwarfism.

              TERFs, I just don’t get.

              Like

            3. Strong argument, though it can be widely applied. For example, reactionaries object to feminists “acting like men” and to equal marriage. Trans hatred seems to combine panic over boundary crossing with confidence that trans people’s small numbers make them safer to attack. This also looks like the redoubt to which bigots retreated after losing on the issue of equal marriage.

              Liked by 2 people

            4. But even if you believe that gender is mostly or entirely a social construct, then why is it an issue if someone decides that they wish to live a different social construct than the one they were assigned at birth? TERFs still make no sense.

              Liked by 2 people

            5. TERFs make perfect (if twisted) sense to me. It’s possible to believe gender is a social construct but also to believe that it’s an immutable social construct. One of the things they often say is that trans women can’t be “real” women because they haven’t experienced certain things that in their view define womanhood (none of whom are things all cis women experience, e.g. menstruation or being raised as a girl), which is a way of both saying that gender is socially constructed (it’s a matter of experience) and immutable (if you haven’t had these experiences, your femininity is open to challenge).

              Like

            6. Anti-trans hate is all about policing people who don’t fit people’s stereotypes and little else. Look at the bigotry directed at athletes like Caster Semenya, who is a cis woman, was raised as a cis woman, and who has had all the experiences that TERF’s like to claim are what makes a woman a woman, yet she is attacked because she is not the kind of woman they want her to be. And the IAAF is enabling the kind of bigotry people like Semenya face by imposing garbage rules – TERFism being institutionalized and weaponized against cis women.

              Liked by 1 person

          3. But they are different and challenge the status quo. That may cause people to re-evaluate who they are and disturb the Grand Circles Of Everything as laid down by Goddess her, wait, “God Himself”. And since they’re trans, it is not clear if they have Teh Ghay should they sleep with any specific gender, and taht too is scary and weird.

            Mind you, this is me supposing and placing made-up possible reasons in the mind of non-existent conservatives. It’s not as if I carry around an accurate mental model of them that I can use for writig sarcastic fiction about them, or anything. No, really, I construct it from scratch whenever it is needed, otherwise it would be insufficiently inconsistent.

            Liked by 1 person

  1. One of the outcomes of the Apupalypse: it drew my attention to SFF creators to follow. It also drew my attention to SFF creators to avoid. By their words & acts shall you know them.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. A few suggested edits.

    s/the former Puppies adopt/the former Puppies adopted/

    This sentence is a bit long and awkward.

    The topic of the Hugo Awards became rarely mentioned in the social media of the former Puppies, appearing only when the normal level of fannish disputes within Worldcon reached a sufficient level for them to notice and for the former Puppies to cite the latest event as evidence that predicted the impending collapse of the Hugo Awards had finally arrived.

    I’d favor something more like this:

    In the social media of the former Puppies, the Hugo Awards rarely came up anymore , appearing only when the normal level of fannish disputes within Worldcon reached a sufficient level for them to notice and then only when the former Puppies could cite the latest event as evidence that the predicted collapse of the Hugo Awards had finally arrived.

    I hadn’t noticed you using the pronoun “I” previously. But it’s early and I’m sleepy.

    In May of 2015, I had begun

    s/immigration, nationality, militarism, gender and sexuality/race, immigration, nationality, militarism, gender and sexuality/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Man, there’s nothing here for us Tyop Patrollers to get our teeth into. The only thing I spotted:

    “…for the former Puppies to cite the latest event as evidence that predicted the impending collapse of the Hugo Awards had finally arrived.” I think “predicted” and “the” are switched. S/b “the predicted impending collapse”. Agree with Greg that “impending” could be cut — if it’s predicted, by definition it’s impending.

    Interesting post!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. While it’s not exactly a standard word, I think “Post Apupalypsic” should be “Post-Apupalyptic” to match the term it’s playing off. (I’m also not sure about the capitalization, but it could be any of three or four possibilities and should probably follow whether Apupalypse has been capitalized in previous chapters.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Solid intro.

    My only nit is that a key sentence is too long: “ Despite Day threatening legal action against the SFWA at the time, the actual major response to his expulsion was the subsequent Puppy campaigns against the Hugo Awards, that allied discontent around Day’s expulsion, with lingering resentment among some fans of Baen books about perceived poor representation at the Hugo Awards, with a mix of self-promotion and broader culture war sentiment.”

    Suggested new version:
    “Although Day threatened legal action against the SFWA, the subsequent Puppy campaigns against the Hugo Awards actually comprised the major response to his expulsion. These campaigns allied/linked? discontent around Day’s expulsion with both some fans’ lingering resentment of perceived poor representation of Baen books at the Hugo Awards and a mix of self-promotion and broader culture-war sentiment. “

    Key ideas need especially clear presentation.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Although they claim to believe that gender is a social construct, they don’t believe it’s something you can change. If you weren’t a little girl growing up, you cannot ever be a woman. For this reason, I think they’re okay with certain kinds of intersexed people, even though they have Y chromosomes.

    Accordingly, they reject the idea that someone physically male, raised male, can ever become a woman. Add to that the fact that radical feminists hate men. All men. Even gay men. Ergo, TERFs hate trans women because they think they’re men.

    I think I do understand the original goal of calling race/gender “social constructs,” but the way people have interpreted those words has led to so much confusion and logical contradiction that I don’t believe it has ended up helping anyone. I’ll add that I opposed that terminology from the first time I heard it because I instantly saw it as giving people license to persecute trans people and even gay people. Heck, it can even be interpreted as giving license to blame the victims of sexism and racism. “If you don’t like how you get treated, you should change your construct.”

    But even if you believe that gender is mostly or entirely a social construct, then why is it an issue if someone decides that they wish to live a different social construct than the one they were assigned at birth? TERFs still make no sense.

    Like

    1. The crashing irony of course is that the whole point of feminism is not to reduce people to or define people by their genitalia. And there TERFs are, doing exactly that.
      Considering the hazards involved in being a woman, one would think that people volunteering to join the team would be welcomed.
      Of course gender and race are constructs (built by the powerful). Quite a useful idea, thought it’s silly to tell somebody penalized for their gender and/or race to “change their construct”; they aren’t the ones who created it.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. From what I’ve seen, TERFs also reject trans women (they never get so worked up over trans men, for some reason 🙄) because they want “women born women” in “women only spaces.” This carries an unpleasant hint, it seems to me, of the reason fundamentalists in the US keep trying to pass their ridiculous “bathroom bills”–trans women are assumed to be in it only for the chance to molest girls in bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. Which is just another form of “gay people are pedophiles.” 🤮

      Like

  7. I came here after reading a note from a Goodread’s participant on “Starship Trooper”. It was a DNF for him because after a few chapters, it turned into a right wing screed with spaceships. I remember that was always the classic the pups used as an example of what Sci Fi should be. I knew Heinlein from “Stranger in a Strange Land” and never read “Starship Troopers”. Now I am glad I didn’t waste my time.

    But like Starship Troopers that’s all Puppygate really was. Well not completely. But it was just same old shit on a new field. And they decided to wreck the Hugo’s Fan’s convention over it. I differ from most of you in that I never really considered Pups to be Sci Fi fans so much as wingnuts that like to read Sci-Fi. Certainly I don’t believe they were ever Hugo Fans. People who chose to associate themselves and classify themselves with that interest were never – could never – be pups.

    But then Larry the promoter hatched a brilliant plan. Niche marketing. Larry used it to create an army of loyal fans that would buy and promote his books forever. Never dawned on them that Larry the Promoter was also not writing “Starship Troopers” type fiction. He would write urban fantasy gun porn for them, play victim and rally his adoring base. Sold a lot of books that way. Getting them to fork over $60 for a political statement and to own the libs was priceless. As was kissing up to Vox Day to bolster his base.

    It couldn’t last. Never could. Never had the numbers and never had the literature. They brought hate to the party and that was it. Once the voting got fixed, the pups were not going to hang around and discuss Sci Fi. That was never the goal. So they went away and Hugo Fans got their convention back. Really Larry the promoter played them for fools, and he still does.

    Like

  8. I came here after reading a note from a Goodread’s participant on “Starship Trooper”. It was a DNF for him because after a few chapters, it turned into a right wing screed with spaceships. I remember that was always the classic the pups used as an example of what Sci Fi should be. I knew Heinlein from “Stranger in a Strange Land” and never read “Starship Troopers”. Now I am glad I didn’t waste my time.

    But like Starship Troopers that’s all Puppygate really was. Well not completely. But it was just same old shit on a new field. And they decided to wreck the Hugo’s Fan’s convention over it. I differ from most of you in that I never really considered Pups to be Sci Fi fans so much as wingnuts that like to read Sci-Fi. Certainly I don’t believe they were ever Hugo Fans. People who chose to associate themselves and classify themselves with that interest were never – could never – be pups.

    But then Larry the promoter hatched a brilliant plan. Niche marketing. Larry used it to create an army of loyal fans that would buy and promote his books forever. Never dawned on them that Larry the Promoter was also not writing “Starship Troopers” type fiction. He would write urban fantasy gun porn for them, play victim and rally his adoring base. Sold a lot of books that way. Getting them to fork over $60 for a political statement and to own the libs was priceless. As was kissing up to Vox Day to bolster his base.

    It couldn’t last. Never could. Never had the numbers and never had the literature. They brought hate to the party and that was it. Once the voting got fixed, the pups were not going to hang around and discuss Sci Fi. That was never the goal. So they went away and Hugo Fans got their convention back. Really Larry the promoter played them for fools, and he still does.

    Like

    1. I’m with you and Clarence Darrow.

      Someone referred to his “controversial stunts”. And I thought, that’s the first time I’ve seen “chronic malicious harassment, threats, and abuse” spelled that way.

      The only thing I felt when I heard the news was an immense sense of relief that all of the people who had been subjected to that chronic malicious harassment, threats, and abuse, some of whom are my friends, now have one less thing in their lives to worry about. They are the one who are receiving condolences from me.

      Imagine being the sort of person who makes the world a better place by leaving it.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Was CUL the fellow who publicly announced that he planned to celebrate the deaths of prominent fans with abusive obituaries?

        Like

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