A perennial question about the Sad Puppy campaign and the Rabid Puppy campaign is whether they were a single phenomenon with two flavours or two separate things that operated together for a while. There is not a single answer to the question. Even an attempt to sort the original Evil League of Evil into Sad and Rabid groups has ambiguities: where should Baen author Tom Kratman be placed or Castalia author John C. Wright? Post-2015 hostility between Vox Day and Sarah Hoyt made the political distinction a little clearer but even that became blurred when Hoyt endorsed Donald Trump.
Puppies, Pulp & Campbell
A difference arose that roughly corresponded with the two flavours of Puppies was the kind of past the reactionary campaigns wanted to return science fiction to. For the Rabid Puppies, this was not directly led by Vox Day but rather grew out of the blog of Castalia House and the bloggers that it promoted such as Jeffro Johnson and his Appendix N project. This was a renewed interest in the pre-WWII pulp era of science fiction and writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. For Sad Puppy figures such as Sarah Hoyt and Brad Torgersen, the defining era/aesthetic of science fiction was that characterised by Robert A. Heinlein or more generally the influence of editor and author John W. Campbell.
In a more interesting world, there might have been a full-throated literary argument between these two perspectives between Sads and Rabids but in our world, it was more people stating set positions. Where they could agree was that the sharp decline in science fiction occurred sometime in the 1980/90s. For the Sad/Campbellian position, this was when the influence of Campbell’s approach finally waned. For the Rabid/Pulp analysis it was a little more complex. The decline had started post World War II but had been temporarily paused in the late 1970s with the arrival of Star Wars reintroducing the pulp aesthetic into the genre. Jasyn Jones (aka GamerGate’s Daddy Warpig) explained the thesis at the Castalia House blog.
“Post-WWII was the era of the Campbellian Silver Age, the era of “Men with Screwdrivers” SF. Action and adventure were childish and frankly embarrassing, as were purple prose and laser swords. Barsoom? Silly. Buck Rogers? Childish. Northwest Smith? A gunslinger, not a scientist. And this was the age of SCIENCE. Science was the focus, technology the touchstone. Stories had to be cerebral, intellectual. They had to be REALISTIC. Real science, none of this fuzzy-headed soft science stuff. SF had to shake off the wooly-headed thinking of Fantasy, the embarrassing antics of Space Opera, the adolescent focus on Adventure and Action. SF was serious business. Real Literature. It was time to grow up.http://www.castaliahouse.com/star-wars-stole-pulp/
Folks, the audiences didn’t get smaller. The genre did. It threw away what had made it popular in the first place.
So when George Lucas came along, he found all the many various tropes and tools the Silver Age had discarded and derided, the laser swords and swashbuckling space battles, the roguish spaceman and his loyal sidekick, the space princesses and space magicians. The action and adventure and heroism. He found them buried in the dust, picked them up, dusted them off, and made F&SF fun again. Made it thrilling again. Made it inspiring again.”
The Rabid Puppy “pulp revival” like much of the broader Puppy engagement with genre history was not well connected with broader non-partisan critical engagement with science fiction’s pulp era. This is not to say that the far-right interest in the pulp era was insincere, multiple sites sprang up actively reading and reviewing pre-WWII science-fiction but with a modern culture-war spin on things. This adoption or co-option of a historical period as part of a far-right identity was not just in fandom, scholars of medieval history would also find themselves struggling with right-wing extremists taking an active, if confused, interest in pre-modern European history as part of the far-right’s attempt to forge a broader cultural identity.
The Campbellian wing of the Puppy campaigns was equally inconsistent with its engagement with the past. The notable second volume of William Paterson’s biography of Robert A. Heinlein drew little attention from the Sad Puppies in 2015 nor did the 2014 film Predestination, an adaptation of Heinlein’s time-looping story “—All You Zombies—”. Of the Evil League of Evil, Sarah Hoyt was the biggest champion of Heinlein who she regarded as a formative figure for her approach to science-fiction and to politics. However, Hoyt’s view of Heinlein was almost religious in nature.
For Brad Torgersen, the engagement with the Campbellian legacy was both structural and aesthetical. Torgersen championed the idea of science-fiction as a genre of space-heroics and styled himself as a writer of “hard” science fiction but more relevant to his pre-Puppy career was the role of two legacies of the earlier period of science-fiction.
One of Campbell’s strangest historical impacts was the promotion of the work and ideas of L. Ron Hubbard (see chapter 4). Hubbard would go on to form the Church of Scientology but as a science fiction writer, his work would not go on to be well regarded. However, one of Hubbard’s ongoing influences on science fiction was via the Writers of the Future contest (see chapters 4, 9 and 33). The contest for new writers had a genuine track record for finding promising talent and past winners included future Hugo Award finalists such as Karen Joy Fowler, Nnedi Okorafor and Aliette de Bodard. Brad Torgersen’s first major publishing break into science fiction came via Writers of the Future and it was also from this program that he met his mentor Mike Resnick.
Torgersen’s second Campbellian connection was Analog Magazine. The long-standing platform for science fiction stories that John W. Campbell had renamed from Astounding, had been a seemingly permanent presence in the Hugo Awards from serialised novels to a plethora of short fiction. After Torgersen’s Writers of the Future success, he had a large number of stories published in Analog and to this day he is listed as one of the most famous names to have been published in the magazine.
However, by the 2010s the influence of both these quite different venues was on the wane. Partly due to changing tastes and changing economic factors for print magazines, the more widely read and critically acclaimed short fiction was coming from online magazines that allowed people to read individual stories for free. Also, for Writers of the Future, the increasing concern among the writing community of the connections between Writers of the Future and the Church of Scientology led to many questioning the ethics of being involved in the competition.
Torgersen’s Sad Puppies 3 slate had been something of a last hurrah for Analog at the Hugo Awards, with four Analog stories becoming finalists on the strength of the Puppy campaigns. Torgersen also included Kary English on the slate due to their common connection with Writers of the Future. No Writers of the Future from a year after 2015 would be a finalist again in the following years nor would any story from Analog make it onto the ballot.
Statues and Statuettes
Within the broader culture war raging across the US and the world, two deeply contrasting views of history were in conflict. On the one hand, viewing history as an active area of study where people can engage with the past through the lens of the present and on the other seeing history as a set of edifying symbols and territorial claims for a patriotic view of the world. In the US these perspectives ran hottest in recent years over the issue of monuments to Confederate figures from the US Civil War.
In the wake of the violent Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, Sarah Hoyt encapsulated the latter view of history with her perspective on the attempted alt-right takeover of the city.
“And no, to whom it may concern, a region not wanting their past or their regional heroes erased to appease a vocal minority does NOT make them white supremacists. This idiotic changing of names, removing of statues and erasing people from history is NOT the work of a free society. It is wholly Stalinist and is letting the rest of the world know you by your fruits as it were. I have nothing invested in the ACW, except for having studied it enough to know it was more complex than most people think, and I’m only “southern” by fiat of my friends, but even I get outraged at the erasing of the past of the region. And you know damn well they’re coming for Jefferson and Washington next. At which point they’ll have to go through me. It’s the left’s old bullshit of removing the giants of the past so their diminutive stature looks tall.”https://accordingtohoyt.com/2017/08/14/fools-to-the-left-of-me-clowns-to-the-right/
The removal of symbolic elements such as monuments was regarded by Hoyt as the erasing of people from history even though the advocates of the removal of such monuments were motivated by their active understanding of the history behind those monuments and their role in rallying support for white supremacist movements .
This conflict of critical versus purely symbolic views of history had its own parallels within the world of literary awards. In 2015, during the peak of the Puppy campaigns, the World Fantasy Award announced they would be adopting a new design for their trophy. The trophy at the time was a caricature of the writer H.P.Lovecraft and while visually striking and distinctive it had two issues: firstly Lovecraft was not an obvious pick as a symbol for the genre of fantasy and secondly Lovecraft as a person was deeply racist even by the standards of pre-war America. Writer Nnedi Okorafor described her own feelings about the trophy she had won in 2011.
“Do I want “The Howard” (the nickname for the World Fantasy Award statuette. Lovecraft’s full name is “Howard Phillips Lovecraft”) replaced with the head of some other great writer? Maybe. Maybe it’s about that time. Maybe not. What I know I want is to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it. If this is how some of the great minds of speculative fiction felt, then let’s deal with that… as opposed to never mention it or explain it away. If Lovecraft’s likeness and name are to be used in connection to the World Fantasy Award, I think there should be some discourse about what it means to honor a talented racist.”http://nnedi.blogspot.com/2011/12/lovecrafts-racism-world-fantasy-award.html
The change in trophy was characterised by some as appeasing social justice warriors and part of a slippery slope for further erasure of history. Historian of Lovecraft’s work S.T.Joshi publicly returned his previous World Fantasy awards in protest at the change, saying:
“Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.) Accordingly, I have returned my two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell.”http://stjoshi.org/news2015.html
Far from erasing Lovecraft from history, the critical engagement with Lovecraft’s underlying and overt racism led to multiple critically acclaimed works by writers re-examining Lovecraft’s themes from new perspectives, including 2017 Hugo finalist works The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor La Valle and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, as well as the 2017 World Fantasy Award-winning novel Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.
The End of an Era
2017 also saw the passing of science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle. A prolific and critically acclaimed science fiction writer as well as science and technology columnist, Pournelle’s first published science fiction was also one of the last works to be edited by John W. Campbell in Analog shortly before his death in 1971.
Pournelle had been arguably the most influential figure in mainstream science fiction for right-wing perspectives in the genre and his work helped map out the sub-genre of military science fiction (aka MilSf) as well building direct bridges between science fiction writers and the US military. As an advocate of hard science fiction and libertarian/paleoconservative views, Pournelle was regarded as a mentor by both Sarah Hoyt and Vox Day but had also been an active member of the SFWA for many years.
In the aftermath of the victory of “no award” in the 2015 Hugo Awards, many Puppy supporters took to quoting Pournelle’s maxim “Money will get you through times of no Hugos better than Hugos will get you through times of no money.” Despite his long career and professional impact on the genre, Pournelle had never won a Hugo Award. However, he had won the nearest thing to a Hugo: the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the not-a-Hugo presented at the Hugo Awards and sponsored by the owners of Analog Magazine. Indeed, Pournelle had been the inaugural winner of the award in 1973.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer was an attempt to recognise new writers but by virtue of being officially not a Hugo Award, it could operate on its own eligibility criteria and avoid potential conflicts of people being Hugo finalists for the same work in two categories. However, by the 2010’s the appropriateness of the award being named after John W. Campbell was coming into question.
Alec Nevala-Lee’s biographic history of the height of Campbell’s influence, Astounding, had led to a renewed examination of some of science fiction’s “greats” (see the previous chapter). Robert Heinlein’s mercurial politics, Isaac Asimov’s sexual harassment and L. Ron Hubbard’s exploitation of people’s credulity were all part of the wider influence of the talent that Campbell had fostered, along with the undeniable wealth of ideas, themes and tropes that Campbell had promoted within the genre. Nevala-Lee had anticipated that his book might provoke a further re-examination of the name of the Campbell Award and in 2019 Astounding was a finalist in the Best Related Work category of the Hugo Awards.
Jeannette Ng was a British based, Hong Kong writer with a background in Medieval History. Her debut 2017 novel Under the Pendulum Sun was a gothic fantasy set in 19th century England and also made her eligible as a finalist for the 2018 and 2019 Campbell Awards.
In August 2019, Ng’s birthplace of Hong Kong was facing its own historical turning point. The former British colony had been officially returned to China in 1997 under an agreement that was characterised as “one country, two systems” with Hong Kong retaining its capitalist economy and adopting a democratic system of government. However, by 2019 the influence and power of the Beijing government on Hong Kong’s government had grown substantially. Protests against a proposed bill that would allow protestors to be extradited to mainland China were met with harsh and violent crackdowns by the Hong Kong police.
Traditionally, the Hugo Award ceremony leads with the Campbell Award and finishes with the award for Best Novel. So the first winner’s speech of the 2019 Awards was that of Jeannette Ng. I’ll quote her edited version.
“John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist. Through his editorial control of Astounding Science Fiction, he is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists”https://medium.com/@nettlefish/john-w-campbell-for-whom-this-award-was-named-was-a-fascist-f693323d3293
However, this was just the introduction to her broader point as her speech moved from the past to the present:
“So I need say, I was born in Hong Kong. Right now, in the most cyberpunk in the city in the world, protesters struggle with the masked, anonymous stormtroopers of an autocratic Empire. They have literally just held her largest illegal gathering in their history. As we speak they are calling for a horological revolution in our time. They have held laser pointers to the skies and tried to to impossibly set alight the stars. I cannot help be proud of them, to cry for them, and to lament their pain.”ibid
In a later Tweet about the subsequent controversy around her speech, Ng made a more direct connection between the themes.
“The list of awful things Campbell did is long, but the one that I can’t stop thinking abt is his defence of the Kent State Shooting. His arguments in that editorial are not all that far off the ppl defending Hong Kong Police’s brutality against protestors right now.”https://twitter.com/jeannette_ng/status/1164117806419521537
The reaction to Ng’s speech was varied with many people calling for the Campbell Award to be renamed. The reaction from the former Sad Puppies was inevitably more sceptical. On Facebook, Brad Torgersen described himself as “one of the very last Campbell Award nominees who actually respected the Campbell legacy” and:
“Now, the SF prognoscenti’s eternal ire is perhaps understandable—if you recognize that Campbell cannot be woke-erased. Any more than Heinlein can be woke-erased. Because Campbell (and Heinlein, and others) gave the audience what it wanted most from SF: idea-driven action and adventure stories, with bold heroics, real science, real scientific dilemmas, and a firm insistence that humanity (all of us on this blue ball called Earth) had a pioneering future in the Big Beyond.For his effort, Campbell has been labeled every unkind word in the dictionary. Going on six decades.Why?”https://www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/3552034954822712
Why Campbell had been labelled with unkind words (such as “fascist” and “racist”) were not hard to discover given the coverage but Torgersen had a different answer:
“Campbellism has been a resounding crowd-pleaser and financial success story. Campbellism has its fingerprints on 85% of the money-making SF books, SF book series, SF stories, SF franchise spin-offs, and SF products created in the last half century. While the New Wave—entirely an anti-populist, anti-prole, very academic and woke-progressive project from its inception—has struggled in Campbellism’s mighty shadow.”ibid
Dell Magazines (owners of Analog Magazine and sponsors of the Campbell Award) responded to the controversy in a measured way. Nevala-Lee’s book had already led to Dell considering a name change for the award but they had been waiting for the magazine’s 90th anniversary. A few days after Ng’s speech, the editor of Analog Trevor Quachri announced the name change.
“As we move into Analog’s 90th anniversary year, our goal is to keep the award as vital and distinguished as ever, so after much consideration, we have decided to change the award’s name to The Astounding Award for Best New Writer.”https://theastoundinganalogcompanion.com/2019/08/27/a-statement-from-the-editor/
Quachri concluded his editorial with some thoughts on history.
“Though Campbell’s impact on the field is undeniable, we hope that the conversation going forward is nuanced. George Santayana’s proverbial phrase remains as true today as when it was coined: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We neither want to paper over the flaws of those who have come before us, nor reduce them to caricatures. But we have reached a point where the conversation around the award is in danger of focusing more on its namesake than the writers it was intended to recognize and elevate, and that is something nobody—even Campbell himself—would want.”ibid
A personal coda
Late in 2019, I was due to travel to Hong Kong for work. The police violence in the streets of the city and the looming threat of bushfires at home in Sydney, Australia meant that I had to cancel those plans. “Next year,” I said to the people I was due to visit, “when things are calmer.”
Next Time: The end of Part 5
-  Attempting a consistent sub-taxonomy of these groups may well be an exercise in futility. While Campbell v Pulps sort of works to distinguish Sad from Rabid, it makes little sense for the chosen genres of novels by Larry Correia or Vox Day. Correia’s most famous books are best classed as urban fantasy, a relatively new sub-genre, whereas Day’s fiction have been his own brand of Christian epic fantasy.
-  For example https://psmag.com/education/nazis-love-taylor-swift-and-also-the-crusades and like the alt-right’s engagement with European history, their engagement with literary history was typically just as confused.
-  https://www.heinleinsociety.org/heinlein-journal/bill-patterson/
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predestination_(film)#Release The film had a limited release in the US initially and for Sad Puppies 3, US fans may not have been aware of it. However, the film’s Hugo eligibility was extended into 2016 and a few people had recommended it on the suggestion pages of the Sad Puppy 4 blog.
-  Hoyt’s 2010 Tor.com essay on Heinlein (part of a promotional series for the first volume of Patterson’s biography) was entitled semi-ironically “The Church of Heinlein (mildly) Reformed” https://www.tor.com/2010/08/18/the-church-of-heinlein-mildly-reformed/ In 2014 John Scalzi would mock the quasi religous aspect of Hoyt’s approach to Heinlein when commenting on Toni Weiskopf’s view of fandom and awards characterising Baen as the “The Orthodox Church of Heinlein” https://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/03/11/the-orthodox-church-of-heinlein/
-  “hard” in this case meaning with significant STEM content (to use a modern term) that is integral to the story. Whether that is an accurate description of Torgersen’s work is a seperate question.
-  https://www.writersofthefuture.com/writer-winners/
-  The run of winning novels is bookended by the 1955 Best Novel They’d Rather Be Right and 2003’s Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer both of which have not had a long lasting reputation but the roll call of writers remains impressive.
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20210911201622/https://www.analogsf.com/authors-corner/whos-who/
-  Former Writers of the Future participant Jim C. Hines discussed some of the issues in 2012 https://www.jimchines.com/2012/02/wotf-and-scientology/
-  As of the 2021 Hugo Awards. Nnedi Okorafor was a former Writers of the Future winner who would have her first Hugo win after 2015 but there was a long gap between the two. It is unlikely that Hugo voters had a particular animus to Writers of the Future participants and more the case that the program was no longer attracting the kind of writers who would make it onto the Hugo ballot.
-  One of the statues concerned was finally removed in 2021. As this report notes: “Charlottesville’s statues of Lee and Jackson were erected in the early 1920s with large ceremonies that included Confederate veteran reunions, parades and balls. At one event during the 1921 unveiling of the Jackson statue, children formed a living Confederate flag on the lawn of a school down the road from Vinegar Hill, a prominent Black neighborhood. The Jackson statue was placed on land that had once been another prosperous Black neighborhood.” https://www.npr.org/2021/07/10/1014926659/charlottesville-removes-robert-e-lee-statue-that-sparked-a-deadly-rally
-  Lovecraft merged horror and supernatural with science fiction tropes about cosmic entities, which is certainly fantastical but not typical of fantasy as a broad genre
-  http://file770.com/s-t-joshi-rails-against-ending-use-of-lovecraft-bust-on-world-fantasy-award/
-  I feel like I should have a reference here to somebody else asserting this but I also feel it is obvious
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Pournelle#Awards
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_country,_two_systems
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%932020_Hong_Kong_protests
-  a swear word was removed and on the night she had accidentally refered to the wrong magazine (Amazing instead of Astounding)
-  http://file770.com/storm-over-campbell-award/