The Complete Debarkle (soft launch)

Soft launches are trendy in marketing circles (or was that long lunches?). This time, this is more out of a vow to have this project all done before 2021 ends rather than cunning marketing. Currently, the final ebook version has hit a snag with Draft2Digital because their bots are picking up the shared content with the multi-volume version. I’ve delisted those but it will probably take a few emails to get the ebook up in the usual outlets.

coming soon in other formats

Undeterred by circumstance, and not wanting to ruin the many New Year’s Eve party readings of Debarkle that I’m sure you all have planned, I am publishing the PDF version with bonus content and a fancy cover.

Big thanks to Danny Sichel for the additional checks and corrections.

Debarkle Afterword: Dramatis Personae

Through this saga, several key figures have been highlighted during the narrative. In this final chapter, we will see where each of them landed at the end of 2021. People and organisations are presented in the order that they appeared in the text.

Worldcon and the Hugo Awards: The famous convention was scheduled to be held in Washington DC in 2021. However, to minimise the disruption from the pandemic the convention was rescheduled to December. Attendees were required to be vaccinated and wear masks. The Hugo Awards were also rescheduled to December. At the convention, the voting for the site selection for Worldcon 2023 went to Chengdu, China. The Hugo Award ceremony was embroiled in controversy when the weapons & space technology company Raytheon was announced as a sponsor. The sponsorship led to a social media storm because of Raytheon’s connection to civilian casualties in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.

John Scalzi: the author continues to enjoy commercial and critical success and is still published by Tor Books. His Interdependency Saga was a finalist for Best Series in the 2021 Hugo Awards. His blog Whatever is still going and has included posts from his daughter Athena Scalzi. Athena appeared on the longlist (nominees who didn’t quite make enough votes to be finalists) of the Hugo Awards for the Best Fan Writer category.

Vox Day: Day never formally gave up on Qanon but he quietly stopped mentioning it during 2021. His main blog content has been promoting his web-comic platform and posting anti-vaccine propaganda. In 2021 his blog was shut down by Google leading him to re-opened it on a WordPress site but without a comment section. The movie version of his Alt-Hero comics was not released. He ended his feud with alt-right social media site Gab. He has yet to finish his epic fantasy saga.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America: The SFWA is still going and its current president is Jeffe Kennedy, a romance and fantasy author.

Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden: Teresa is still a consulting editor and Patrick is still the Editor-in-Chief at Tor Books. Making Light still operates as a blog with a community of commenters.

Baen Books and Toni Weisskopf: Baen is still publishing a wide range of science fiction. In 2019 Discon III (the 2021 Worldcon) announced that Toni Weisskopf would be a Guest of Honour at the convention[1]. The official web forum of the publisher, Baen’s Bar, continued as a site for discussion but over the years had become less active. Nonetheless, in the wake of January 6, 2021, Capitol Riots, some threads on the Bar were actively discussing armed “resistance”[2] including calls by author Tom Kratman for Trump to form a militia wing of his supporters. An investigation into extremist violent rhetoric on the Bar by fan-writer Jason Sanford highlighted the extent of the radicalisation on the web forum[3]. To manage the subsequent media attention and amid fears that Internet Service Providers might take action against Baen’s websites, Weisskopf temporarily closed Baen’s Bar[4]. In turn, Sanford was subject to social media harassment by supporters of the Bar, as well as more reasoned push-back from Baen authors such as Eric Flint and David Weber[5]. Amid the controversy, Discon III announced that Weisskopf had been removed as one of the Guests of Honour which generated its own controversy[6]. After the 2021 Hugo Awards were announced, the voting statistics showed that Weisskopf had received enough votes to be a finalist in the Best Editor Long Form category but had declined the nomination.

Larry Correia: Correia continues to produce popular books and in 2021 he won his fourth Dragon Award for his science fiction book Gun Runner, co-written with John D. Brown. He retains a contentious relationship with Facebook.

N.K.Jemisin: In 2020, Jemisin was awarded a $625,000 MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant[7]. In 2021 she was listed in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World[8]. The film/TV rights for her multi-Hugo award-winning Broken Earth series was bought by Sony Pictures in 2021 for a seven-figure sum with Jemisin herself set to adapt the books for the screen[9].

Sarah A Hoyt: Hoyt bought back the rights to her Darkship series from Baen books and is currently re-editing them so she can publish them independently. She has recently moved from Colorado.

The Mad Genius Club: The lineup of the Mad Genius Club had shifted only a little. After the Puppy campaigns, the focus of the site returned to giving advice to aspiring independent authors with minimal politics but a lingering suspicion of traditional publishing. Dave Freer is living a self-sufficient lifestyle on an island off the coast of Tasmania where he is engaged in a dispute with the local government.

GamerGate: The more famous names attached to GamerGate have long since moved on but if you say “Gamergate” three times on social media, the lingering mass of true believers will appear to explain how they were all misunderstood.

Mike Glyer: File 770 remains a popular source of news and gossip in fandom including coverage of the latest disputes and controversies at Worldcon.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew: Has published several novels and short fiction since 2015.

Brad R. Torgersen: In 2019, Torgersen won the Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction novel for A Star-Wheeled Sky. For a brief period in 2021, his Wikipedia page also listed his military medals which included the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon awarded to officers “who have completed a prescribed leadership course at an NCO training school”[10].

John C. Wright: Wright withdrew the rights for several of his novels published by Vox Day’s Castalia House and republished them with Russell Newquist’s Silver Empire.

Tom Kratman: Can be found on Quora arguing about historical wars.

Castalia House: Has largely stopped publishing new science fiction

Marko Kloos: Kloos has been a finalist four times for the Dragon Awards. Two of his short stories were adapted for the Netflix animated sci-fi anthology series Love, Death and Robots.

Kary English: English is still writing stories and remains involved in the Writers of the Future Contest.

Michael Z. Williamson: Having multiple Facebook accounts in slightly different names allows Williamson to argue against masks and vaccines despite regular temporary Facebook bans.

The Sad Puppies 4 Website: Ownership of the domain name was lost by the former Puppies and the site has been adopted by various owners in the years since. For a while, it was a website promoting Italian slot machine websites and a site linking to audiobook versions of the Quran. It is currently being used to display an example blog (about carpet cleaning) for a WordPress template.

The Dragon Award: Dragon Con has not published detailed statistics on the voting of the awards. The level of participation in the awards is not known.

Declan Finn: Despite several efforts, Finn has not been a Dragon Award finalist since 2017. He has not made a return visit to Italy.

Richard Spencer et al: The deadly Unite the Right Rally of 2017 in Charlottesville led to a civil case against the organisers of the rally by nine victims of the violence. 12 individual defendants and five white nationalist/supremacist organisations were found guilty on multiple charges. The jury awarded $25 million in damages to the victims[11].

Jon Del Arroz: The case Del Arroz had filed against the 2018 Worldcon lasted until June 2021. Most of his claims against the convention were dropped during the litigation leaving only one claim for defamation. The organisers of the 2018 Worldcon settled this final claim rather than continue the case any further and paid Del Arroz an undisclosed sum and made a public apology for implying he was racist[12]. In August 2021, Del Arroz was permanently banned from Twitter for violating their rules against “hateful conduct”[13] although he has been seen on the site since using a different account.

Comicsgate: Jon Del Arroz, Ethan Van Sciver and Vox Day are no longer feuding. The mix of culture-war rhetoric to promote crowdfunded projects continues.

Qanon: On November 2021, a sub-group of Qanon followers gather in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas with the expectation that John F. Kennedy would appear. He didn’t.

20 Books to 50K: Remains an active Facebook group helping aspiring authors. Their 2021 Vegas conference featured a panel with Toni Weisskopf and Larry Correia discussing social media strategy.

Camestros Felapton: Intends to redirect his efforts to shorter and more poorly footnoted posts. The proportion of typographical errors will be unaffected.

Timothy the Talking Cat: Despite many requests, Timothy did not appear or contribute directly to this project[14].


Debarkle: Conclusion

Worldbuilding is an important part of all fiction, the creation of imagined reality within which characters can interact and a plot unfold. While worldbuilding has a role in all genres, it is of particular importance within science fiction and fantasy where the departure from genuine reality is expected to be more profound and overt. If you read this far into the Debarkle (and haven’t simply skipped ahead to the final chapter) I can assume you are conversant with the idea of imagined realities but I want to describe an imagined reality now not to provide a setting for a piece of narrative fiction but to help describe some real-world events. We will call this imagined reality the Unnatural Alliance.

Continue reading “Debarkle: Conclusion”

Debarkle Chapter 74: Meanwhile…Election 2020

[content warning: discussion of violence and murder]

Robert Heinlein’s “crazy years” were a period in his extrapolation of history into the future where rapid technological change would accompany a period of cultural and social decline. The idea resembles aspects of accelerationism[1] and the sense of galloping technological change and social unrest is one the world has been grappling with culturally since at least the nineteenth century. Among science fiction writers, and particularly science fiction writers with an interest in the Campbellian “Golden Age”, Heinlein’s “crazy years” were an apt metaphor for contemporary social ills.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 74: Meanwhile…Election 2020”

Debarkle Chapter 73: Covid, Contrarians and Cons

The exact start of the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t known. At the time of writing this chapter (November 2021), it is believed that via some means a variant of a coronavirus found in other mammals made its way into the human population[1]. A less likely possibility (on current evidence) is that the virus outbreak was due to an accidental exposure from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It’s likely that there will never be a wholly unambiguous answer to this question because viruses don’t keep diaries or film their activities for Tik-Tok. This chapter isn’t the story of a virus or a pandemic though — there are better places to read about how Covid-19 spread around the world. This is a story about fear, uncertainty and doubts both natural and manufactured but also about how people coped with a challenging year.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 73: Covid, Contrarians and Cons”

Debarkle Chapter 72: Part 6 Overview — Pandemic 2020

In the previous parts of this story, we traced the precursors to a culture war within (primarily US) science-fiction fandom, the eruption of that culture war into a specific dispute over the Hugo Awards and then the aftermath of that dispute during the years of the Donald Trump Presidency.

Historical stories do not have neat ends and the formal end to this story is where I started it in the introduction: January 6 2021[1]. I wanted to ensure that as we dived into the ins and outs of fandom, that the broader political context was recognised. These events did not occur in a vacuum and in some cases, major world events helped shape the fannish microcosm. In other cases, technological and economic changes that happened with less fanfare were also at work. The rise of ebook readers, smartphones and online book stores, for example, changed the economic relationships between readers, authors and publishers in ways that are still undergoing change.

This is also partly a story of changing ways communities that are physically remote from each other communicate. The pre-internet fandom brought people virtually together via mimeographed fanzines and the postal system. Bulletin boards and Usenet forums created new ways for fans to organise. Online services such as Compuserve opened up that kind of online experience to a wider set of people and by the start of the 21st century, web-based blogs and forums are key spaces where many of the major players in this story become engaged with one kind of fandom or another. By 2009 and the RaceFail controversy (see chapter 13) the blog/social media site LiveJournal was a major locus of fan discussion and also instrumental for many women and people of colour to assert higher expectations of fans on issues of race and sexism. During the subsequent years, blogs reached their peak influence and also saw a steady decline in face of social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Meanwhile, the role of spaces with both less internal regulation and lax community standards such as 4Chan (and later 8Chan) as a locus for extreme reactionary ideas to be disseminated also grew.

While these broad socio-economic and technological changes have played their role in this story, major political events have also punctuated the narrative. In some cases, those events have had an immediate impact and in other cases, they simply correspond non-causally[2] in time. These events mark milestones in the young history of a new century.

The September 11 terror attacks on the USA marked a key moment for multiple people involved in the Debarkle. For Brad R. Torgersen it was the point where he joined the army. For John C. Wright it was a point where he began to seriously question his atheism. Sarah A. Hoyt cites 9-11 as an event that caused her to see the views of people on the left as fundamentally wrong, even though her political “coming out” would be a few years later. The attacks do not appear to have changed Vox Day’s views of the world but they led him to abandon using his World Net Daily column as a review of computer technology and shift to political punditry.

The Global Financial Crisis of 2007 to 2009 corresponds with but does not appear to have directly caused a major cultural shift in fandom. Long-running debates about the representation of women and cultural diversity in fandom shifted gear in this period. At one end a historic low in the representation of women in the Hugo Awards in 2007 led to an increased call to action by many women in fandom and publishing. Meanwhile, the anger and frustration of many people of colour in fandom at the tokenism and exploitation of cultural diversity in fandom and publishing led to an ongoing shift in the nature and make-up of fandom. That this occurred during a global crisis of capitalism may or may not have been a coincidence.

To what extent the GFC played a role in the historic election of Barack Obama as US President is beyond the scope of this project. However, what was apparent was the start of a sustained pushback from the US right against the perceived acceleration of social change. However, while right-wing movements such as the Tea Party acted in opposition to movements such as Occupy Wall Street, a common theme at least in the rhetoric of both[3] was the sense of betrayal by conventional politics and established figures of powers (such as banks) in the wake of the GFC.

Of course, at the centre of this particular project is the rise of alt-right culture warriors in the period of 2014-2016, when the twin popular culture campaigns of GamerGate and the Puppy Kerfuffle were directly connected by the recognition of a new aesthetic of right-wing online activism, the most politically extreme form of which became known as the Alt-Right. How the alt-right would have evolved if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 US Presidential Election is unclear. Instead, the US Presidency went to Donald Trump, a figure whom the alt-right had christened their “God Emperor”.

Below all of this, the world kept changing. The long term impact of the industrial revolution and the 20th century’s acceleration of the consumption of fossil fuels was incrementally rising global surface temperatures. The physical impacts of this warming process had long been predicted but for the general public, it was difficult to spot differences between an unseasonably warm month and a long term trend. In the second decade of the 21st century, the signal of global warming was becoming loud enough to be heard above the noise without the aid of statistics.

Yet, it was a different long-predicted phenomenon that would become the signature event, closing the chapter on the nearly twenty years since 9-11. A global pandemic.

In 2021 we don’t know how the long term effects of the pandemic will impact our politics or our communities. We don’t know either how it will reshape fandom. However, in the final part of our story, we will look at how a worldwide calamity impacted the players in the Debarkle and how the culture war led to a new threat against democracy.


  • [1] Plus some codas and wrapping up of various events in 2021.
  • [2] or if there is a causal connection it is not immediately apparent
  • [3] to what extent this was cynical within the Tea Party groups is unclear

Debarkle Chapter 71: Meanwhile… 2019

[content warning: descriptions of racism and murder]

I don’t know how many people hoped that the election of Donald Trump might somehow take the heat out of the simmering polarisation of US politics. I can see how somebody might imagine that having unexpectedly elected Trump, the victory might mollify the more extreme aspects of the American right or, alternatively, that Trump’s obvious inadequacies as a political leader might disillusion or discredit the right-wing of the Republican Party. Well before 2019, it was clear that Trump would only accelerate the growth of a partisan divide in the US.

Harsh immigration policies and more publicly aggressive action toward undocumented immigrants in the US did not reduce the scare-mongering on the right about “illegals” or demographic change. The US severely curtailed the numbers of refugees it would admit from what was already an historic low[1]. Immigration to the US from Mexico (an issue Trump had seized upon from the beginning of his Presidential campaign) had already been sharply falling since 2010[2]. However, the factual basis of immigration to the USA was never the primary motivator behind the political rhetoric of the issue.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 71: Meanwhile… 2019”

Debarkle Chapter 70: Life After Campbell

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.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 70: Life After Campbell”

Debarkle Chapter 69: Life After Puppies — Hugo Awards 2018

Convinced in 2015 that the Hugo Awards were heading towards an inevitable decline, the Sad Puppies celebrated the arrival of the 2016 Dragon Awards as the final nail in the coffin of the venerable Hugos. Membership numbers for Worldcon remained strong[1] even if the number of Hugo voters declined from the peak of 2015[2]. The Dragon Awards in the meantime struggled with their own capacity to publicise themselves, with the size and scope of Dragon Con overshadowing the award ceremony which was forced to compete with a plethora of other events.

A more dramatic change was noticeable in the gender balance of the Hugo Award finalists. 2007 had seen a remarkable lack of representation of women writers in the main story categories (Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story), with only one woman finalist (Naomi Novik). From that nadir, the number of women finalists increased until 2014 and the impact of the Puppy campaigns. However, even the Puppy years avoided the low point of 2007 and ten years later a majority of finalists were women. The underlying trends had continued during the Puppy years, even if the impact of the slates had masked the changes. From 2016 onwards the winners of those four categories would all be women. Transgender authors and authors using non-binary pronouns were now visible in the Hugo Awards further breaking down the stereotype of the male science fiction author.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 69: Life After Puppies — Hugo Awards 2018”

Debarkle Chapter 68: History Rhymes — Nebulas 2019

One of the contradictory themes of the 2015 Sad Puppy campaigns was its dual claims of tradition and change. Brad Torgersen had sought a traditional publishing path within science fiction, seeking a mentor from an influential editor (Mike Resnick) and publication in one of the longest-running science fiction magazines, Analog. However, the Sad Puppy campaign would quickly shift to claiming that it was championing the new independent paths to publishing created by the proliferation of ebooks and ebook readers. In the 2015 Sad Puppy slate, Torgersen had in particular included independent author Annie Bellet as an example he could cite of the Sad Puppies introducing independent writers into the Hugo nominations. That many independently published writers were already present in the shorter fiction was not something acknowledged by the Puppies nor was the fact that the most notable bête noire of the Puppies, John Scalzi, had self-published his first science fiction novel on his blog.

In the chaos and bad blood of the 2015 Hugo Awards, Annie Bellet had withdrawn after the Puppy sweep of the nominations became clear. While the maelstrom that was the Puppies dominated science fiction news in 2015, other significant changes were occurring. 2015 also marked a major change in the membership eligibility rules for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). After a referendum of members, the SFWA amended its rules to make it easier for self-published and small press writers to become members[1]. Bellet had been a member of the SFWA prior to the rule change but was part of a growing number of independently published authors joining the SFWA.

The territory of science fiction publishing was changing during this period. New small publishers focused on ebooks were coming into being. From 2016, the newly created Dragon Awards featured some finalists from new publishing collectives such as Chris Kennedy Publishing[2] particularly in the military-SF and space opera subgenres. Ironically, after a busy year in 2017, Vox Day’s own boutique publisher Castalia House effectively withdrew from science fiction publishing in 2018[3].

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 68: History Rhymes — Nebulas 2019”