Debarkle Chapter 51: Meanwhile…Donald Trump

It is 1987 and the question for American conservatives is who will succeed Ronald Reagan not just as President of the United States but as the ideological figurehead of the conservative movement. The most likely candidate for the Republican nomination is George H.W. Bush, the current Vice President but Bush’s credibility among the right of the Republican Party isn’t strong. Nevertheless, his role at Ronald Reagan’s side will make him a difficult candidate to beat. The alternatives to Bush include Bob Dole and Jack Kemp but many on the right are putting their hopes in televangelist Pat Robertson who was promising to clear out liberals from the apparatus of the federal government.[1] Robertson had built his campaign by appealing for millions of volunteers in his Evangelical Christian base to rally to his cause. Press coverage of the race has focused on the increasing influence of the radical Christian movement within the Republican Party:

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Debarkle Chapter 50: 2015 Aftermath — July to December

The Sad Puppy defeat could have been taken as a repudiation of what the Sad Puppies had stood for but in the wake of the Hugo Award ceremony, nobody had a clear idea what the Sad Puppies had stood for. Larry Correia’s original campaign had framed itself as promoting fun, honest action in science fiction as a blow against overly literary fiction yet Sad Puppies 2 had promoted Vox Day’s Opera Vita Aeterna, a story in which an elf discusses theology and Sad Puppies 3 had promoted the work of John C Wright, a writer even more obsessed with literary aesthetics and philosophical themes. Critics of Brad Torgersen’s original framing of the Sad Puppies 3 campaign had pointed to his anti-diversity rhetoric and yet Torgersen could genuinely point to a slate that was not homogeneously white and male. True, the impact of the Puppy slates reduced the representation of women on the ballot compared to 2013 but it was still a better balance than relatively recent Hugo ballots (e.g. 2007). Sad Puppy supporters had rallied around a claim that the Hugo Awards were biased against conservative writers and works but also the Sad Puppy leadership had denied that the campaign was political. In an attempt to prevent critics of the Sad Puppy campaign from framing the campaign in any particular way, defenders of the campaigns had counter-examples ready.

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Debarkle Chapter 49: August Part 3

The 2015 Hugo Award results were an emphatic repudiation of the Sad Puppies 3 campaign by the voters. Of all the works nominated on either Puppy slate, only the Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy won a Hugo and “no award” had won the five categories which only had Puppy slated works on the ballot.

Following the award ceremony, the Hugo voting statistics were released[1] showing how the votes were distributed and also what works had been nominated. The statistics showed a further level of pushback from the voters against the Puppy slates. Even in the categories where a non-Puppy-slated work had won, ‘no award’ had beaten the Puppy-slated works in the final rankings. The final ballot used a preference system so the official order is determined after elimination rounds of counting but often ‘no award’ beat the Puppy-slated finalists at the first preference stage. A majority of voters in most categories voted for ‘no award’ above having any Puppy-slated finalist win.

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Debarkle Chapter 48: August – Part 2

In a metaphor so thick that it literally assailed your senses, the 2015 Worldcon aka Sasquan opened with the smell of smoke as Spokane felt the impact of Washington State’s wildfire season. However, neither fears of having to evacuate fans because of fire nor fears of violent fallout from the past months of bitter argument about the Puppy campaigns were realised[1].

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Debarkle Chapter 47: August Part 1

Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, had received a record-breaking number of votes for the Hugo finalists[1]. Whatever else the Puppy campaigns had done, they had led to a substantial number of people voting in the Hugo Awards. In early August nobody except the people counting the votes knew how the majority of voters had voted. On the last day of July, Nicholas Whyte updated his round-up of how multiple bloggers had stated they had voted. He observed:

“This final snapshot doesn’t change the picture much; the three front-runners for Best Novel remain close to each other, and No Award remains in front in the other categories.”

If the pattern of voting among these bloggers was reflected in the final voting then ‘no award’ was going to win several categories. Ambitiously, Jim C Hines made multiple predictions of how events would play out[2].

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A different view of culture wars and Science Fiction

I haven’t linked to Sarah Hoyt’s Mad Genius Club blog for a long time, mainly because much of what she is posting is not well structured. However, a recent post was germane to my interests and has some overlap with the Debarkle project. The post is rambling and full of odd leaps and flawed premises but that is the normal situation. The opening paragraphs states her premise relatively clearly:

“Perhaps it makes perfect sense for the science fiction genre — literature and movie, and all its glorious expanse — which achieved prominence in the 20th century to have become in a way, sideways, in small sphere the guinea pig of societal trends to come.

I’m only half in jest and all in seriousness, mind you.

This isn’t some half baked idea, like pretending to see the universe in a droplet of water or the conflagration of a match. (Both of which things I was convinced were perfectly valid, due to having learned them in science fiction books, which by the time I got my hot little — emphasis on little — hands on them were over fifty years old.)

It’s rather the fact that because the twentieth century was riven by two primary and — if we have a future as a species, I’m sure to our descendants — insane ideas: the idea that “science” — by which one must understand the knowledge at that time, not the process by which knowledge is acquired, with its heresies and toppling of accepted theory — could explain and ordain everything; and the idea that “great men” in charge would leads to glory by use of that “science.””

I don’t agree with her general idea and certainly not with the specific claims in the essay but I’d see two related ideas as sensible ones:

  • Science fiction is a genre in which people have often explored big ideas including social, economic and political change including positing (unreliably) some changes that actual occurred.
  • Science fiction as a genre is caught up in social change and on occasion changes that are already occurring may be more visible in science fiction literature and communities focused on that literature.

The second dot-point is sort of the premise of Debarkle i.e. science fiction is downstream of social change but not very far downstream. The first dot-point also suggests that science fiction is upstream of social change and can anticipate it but that’s only true in the way that a gambler who bets on every horse in a race can guarantee they picked a winner.

I’m not going to do a line by line refutation of Hoyt’s essay because that would be tiresome for both you and me but I’ll focus on one part because I like to talk about climate change and I also haven’t done that in awhile:

“And then there was “the Earth is going to freeze to death” — I’m packing my library and hoping that I didn’t throw away the anthology (very convincing) I bought at the end of the 80s in which author after author talked about the Earth freezing due to… well, excess freedom, and “consumerism” and “free market.”

Because those d*mn dirty apes just don’t know how to live, and won’t listen to their betters! The Earth has a chill, and the cure is socialism, population control and the “best” people in charge.

Of course, five years later, there were anthologies about how the Earth had a fever and the cure was socialism.”

Hoyt’s echoing a common climate change denial talking point about the supposed sudden shift in scientific consensus from a looming ice age in the mid-70s to global warming in the mid-80s. The talking point is largely false with some nuggets of truth (i.e. there really were discussions of global cooling as a possibility, leading to a new ice age but not a consensus and this was parallel with growing evidence of potential warming from anthropogenic CO2)

However, she’s also re-writing genre history. There are notable 1960s sci-fi books set on Earth in a new ice age (Moorcock, Silverberg) and books with rising temperatures (Ballard). Asking people to imagine how Earth might be dramatically different in the future and in terms of climate there are two-and-a-half obvious choices: hotter and flooded, hotter and all desert, colder and all ice. Of course, in film we have early 1970’s Soylent Green* mixing over-population fears with an express reference to global warming. Whereas, well past the point where there was any serious doubt about anthropogenic global warming we have The Day After Tomorrow in which global warming triggers a new ice age just to split the difference!

Science fiction affects and is affected by culture and science but not in some neat way.

*(oh and in terms of science fiction affecting the future we now have but the ingredients are closer to the book than the film [I hope])

Debarkle Chapter 46: July

The substance of the argument about the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns had already run out of steam in June but the attempt to foment a GamerGate-like campaign against Tor Books fuelled the surrounding arguments for another month. July was a month of exhaustion.

Late in June, under general instructions from work, Brad Torgersen pulled back from social media but did become a scheduled blogger at Mad Genius Club discussing issues about writing[1]. Larry Correia’s professional commitments (one of his reasons for not running Sad Puppies 3 in the first place) meant that he had limited time to blog. On the other side of the widening chasm, Mike Glyer announced that he’d be winding down the daily Puppy round-up posts. The final one ran on July 6 and attracted 1,887 comments.

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Debarkle Chapter 45 – The Reviews (April to July)

The focus of this project has been on a small number of people who set chains of consequences in motion but at every stage, it was fans who determined the outcomes of the Hugo Awards by voting.

The sheer volume of comments and debates that the dual Puppy campaigns engendered makes it impossible for this project to adequately capture the range of opinions and discussions that took place. In particular, lengthy comment threads at File 770, Making Light, Monster Hunter Nation, Mad Genius Club and Brad Torgersen’s blog saw opponents and supporters of the Puppy campaigns duelling over the aims and legitimacy of the Puppy campaigns.

As the leader of the Sad Puppies 3 campaign, Brad Torgersen had appealed to critics of his slate to read the works nominated and evaluate them fairly. Proponents of the No Award Strategy argued that the impact of slate voting (particularly from the Rabid Puppy campaign) meant that even a reasonable work was compromised as a finalist by the Puppy slates. In those categories where there was a single non-slated finalist (such as Best Fan Writer and Best Novelette), even the non-slated finalist was competing against a field that many fans regarded as illegitimate.

A pertinent question then was whether the 2015 finalists were any good.

  • Had the Puppies actually nominated award-worthy works and people?
  • Would a No Award strategy unfairly penalise worthy finalists?
  • Were the few non-Puppy-slated finalists any good or were they unwitting beneficiaries of a distorted nomination process?

There was no simple, objective process that could decide these questions. In the end, the decision would come down to how Worldcon members voted but in the meantime what fans could do is read and review the Hugo 2015 finalists.

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Debarkle Chapter 44: June Part 2

[Content warning for dicussion of a racist mass shooting in a later section]

The Tor Boycott and harassment of Tor creative director Irene Gallo by supporters of the dual Puppy campaigns dominated the discussion in fannish spaces in June. However, neither fandom nor the rest of the world stopped for the quixotic campaign against the publisher.

The same weekend that Vox Day started his campaign against Gallo (see the previous chapter), the SFWA presented the Nebula Awards for works produced in 2014. The timing of Day’s release of the screenshot of Gallo’s Facebook comment and the Nebula Awards was almost certainly not a coincidence. Out of curiosity, Mike Glyer emailed Day and asked him directly about the timing. Day explained:

“I’ve held onto this since I had the screencap, which as you correctly note was made several weeks ago. As for the “sinister plotting”, I have long been in the habit of never using all of my ammunition at once, or pointing-and-shrieking for its own sake. I am a patient man and I didn’t strike back at TNH, PNH, or even John Scalzi right away either.”

Vox Day via email quoted here

The Nebula Awards presented a what-might-have-been look at works that potentially could have been Hugo finalists if the Puppy campaigns had not occurred. The Hugo and the Nebula awards often have an overlap in finalists but the outcomes can vary substantially between the awards. Nonetheless, the difference between the two awards was quite stark in 2015.

The winners in categories with equivalent Hugo categories were:

  • Novel
    • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; Harper Collins Canada)
  • Novella
    • Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • Novelette
    • “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
  • Short Story
    • “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
  • Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
    • Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Of those, only the Dramatic Presentation category had any overlap with the Puppy slates and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was arguably the least controversial Puppy-pick.

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Debarkle Chapter 43: June Part 1 — the Tor Boycott

The discussion on the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns had not burned out by the start of June 2015 but it had plateaued. The back-and-forth of the argument had reached a point of circularity where people argued about events that had occurred in the course of the discussion. Earlier in the conflict, people had been giving one-star reviews at online book stores of works by notable Puppy-associated authors and counter campaigns had also occurred[1]. Sad Puppy-nominated finalist Lou Antonelli had found a Tweet critical of the Sad Puppies so objectionable that he contacted the Tweet’s author (reviewer Aaron Pound) at his place of work[2]. These kinds of bad-faith interactions further fuelled hostility but at this stage, the surrounding discussion remained one mainly about books and awards. It wasn’t a polite discussion about books and awards but it had not reached the kind maelstrom of toxicity that GamerGate had.

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