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In the chaos and bad blood of the 2015 Hugo Awards, Annie Bellet had withdrawn after the Puppy sweep of the nominations became clear.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.

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

Debarkle Chapter 67: Vox and Q

Starting in 2017 and spreading through the alt-right in 2018 and then further beyond in subsequent years, the compendium of conspiracy theories known as Qanon has become so complex that an adequate account is beyond the scope of this project. For those looking for a more detailed account of the key figures instrumental in propagating the Qanon conspiracy theory, the HBO documentary “Q: Into the Storm” by Cullen Hoback[1] is worth watching. For information on the broader movement, its influences and variations, the entertaining Qanon Anonymous podcast[2] has been covering the phenomenon since April 2018.

The precipitating element of the conspiracy theory was a series of enigmatic and anonymous postings on imageboards (first 4Chan and later 8Chan) by a supposed intelligence agency insider who used the codename “Q”. The content of these posts was both very thin and very cryptic, with much of the surrounding lore and beliefs being constructed by fans of the theory. “Fans” is, I believe, the correct term to use here as the Qanon movement resembled fannish culture in multiple ways including the importance of fan theories, and often anarchic (even if ideologically reactionary) decentralised structure as a movement and the shared social experience of participants. Where Qanon differs from more conventional fandoms was the extent to which its participants do not believe they are dealing with fiction.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 67: Vox and Q”

Debarkle Chapter 66: The Rise and Self Destruction of Comicsgate

[Content warning for bullying and misogyny]

GamerGate (see chapter 28) and the Puppy campaigns had each chosen their own mode of popular culture to stage a revolt against the perceived incursion of more modern ideas. The offending ideas were not just social/political but also aesthetic or a combination of both — particularly regarding how women were represented. While both GamerGate and the Puppy campaigns included women supporters, both campaigns highlighted feminism as one of the social movements they were pushing back on and also portrayed the respective domains as places naturally suited for the enjoyment of young men.

Among the alt-right (see chapter 57) both of these campaigns were part of a broader pushback against the inclusion of women, a greater range of ethnic groups and LGBTQI people in popular culture both as characters and as creators. This pushback was tied to a specific politically paranoid belief that sinister forces were attempting to wipe out white people as a group and hence the increased representation in popular culture (from movies to TV adverts) of people other than manly looking cis-het English-speaking Christian white men were regarded as confirmation of a genocidal plot. This overarching idea allowed the alt-right to connect in their rhetoric everything from their opposition to Black Lives Matter, to immigration, to their support for Donald Trump, and of course to the ongoing struggle over popular culture.

GamerGate had framed itself as a consumer uprising, the Puppy campaigns would adopt similar rhetoric but were predominantly campaigns by content creators (i.e. authors). Even the more GamerGate aspects of the Puppy campaigns (eg the Tor Boycott – see chapter 43) was still led primarily by aspiring authors. However, a more general reactionary consumer revolt tactic was adopted on the right across a broader range of popular culture. In the aftermath of GamerGate, this had included a coordinated campaign against the women-led reboot of the Ghostbuster’s franchise. The targeted harassment of actor Leslie Jones led to Milo Yiannopoulos being permanently banned from Twitter[1].

Other alt-right backlashes in popular culture included campaigns against Rian Johnson’s Star War’s sequel The Last Jedi[2] in 2017. In 2018 former GamerGate and Puppy supporter Brian Neimeier was one of many on the right who was outraged by Netflix commissioning a re-boot of 1980’s kid’s cartoon She-Ra but with more body positive character designs. Neimeier saw the move as a sadisitc mental game by the media company.

“What follows is crucial. In fact, it’s the whole point. The converged corporation fans initial murmurs of normie dissatisfaction into a full-fledged backlash. Conveniently, the company will have hired a race hustler masquerading as a writer or a LOOK AT ME!!! LGBTQ+ mascot to headline the project. Those who complained have unwittingly stepped into a kafkatrap wherein the production’s SJW fellow travelers in the media can snipe at normal people with their victims caught in a crossfire.”

Even cute Disney musicals got dragged into the culture war with, belatedly, the song “Let It Go” from the 2013 film Frozen being identified as subversively feminist in 2017 by popular right-wing self-help guru of the time Jordan Peterson calling the film “propagandistic” while Vox Day saw Satan and the collapse of civilisation in the song.

“Disney is run by literal satanists preaching Alastair Crowley’s “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” to children. They are one of the primary engine’s of the West’s degeneracy and decline. It is not an accident that everything they touch, in every industry, turns into morally radioactive slime.”

However, histrionics about catchy show tunes lacked the same mobilising influence as GamerGate and the Puppy campaigns had. Attempts to derail huge franchises backed by marketing might of the increasingly dominant Disney corporation proved to be largely fruitless.

Among the many areas in this sporadic cultural campaign was superhero comic books. This front in the culture war was initially just part of the same unfocused complaints about improved representation of women and other groups in modern comics. Most notable of these incidents was the far-right online harassment campaign that sprung up in 2016 objecting to the cover of a Marvel comic featuring the character Mockingbird in a t-shirt that read “Ask me about my feminist agenda”[4]. The writer of the comic, Chelsea Cain, was subject to a wave of harassment on social media[5]. In 2017 an otherwise unremarkable photograph of women staff at Marvel drinking milkshakes became the focus of another social media harassment campaign.

“According to a vocal contingent online, Antos and the Marvel Milkshake Crew were “fake geek girls,” “social justice warriors,” and “tumblr-virtue signalers,” the sort of people who were ruining the comics industry by their very presence. “The creepiest collection of stereotypical SJWs [“social justice warriors”] anyone could possibly imagine,” one user tweeted. Musings on Antos’ sexual availability led another to write, “Better have her sign a consent form, she looks like the ‘false rape charge’ type.””

Central to that campaign was a YouTuber and comic book writer/reviewer Richard C. Meyer, who had been using his channel (entitled “Diversity & Comics”) to promulgate the idea that feminism and diversity were undermining comics. Not all of Meyer’s anti-diversity rhetoric was public and his more extreme comments were contained in a private channel for more dedicated fans of his videos.

“In a private YouTube video called “The Dark Roast,” originally posted in November 2017 and obtained by The Daily Beast, Meyer called one Marvel editor a “cum-dumpster,” accused various female writers of “sucking their way into the industry,” and mused which famous creators were pedophiles or had psychological problems. “The Dark Roast is where I get to say stuff like ‘Dan Slott looks like a pedophile,’” he says in the recording. “I don’t have to dance around, I don’t have to say ‘parody’ or wink-wink.””


Meyer was one of the two central figures in Comicsgate but before we get to the second figure, we need to look at the other dimension of Comicsgate and encounter some more familiar faces.

Comics, as an industry, had many features in common with both the book publishing world of the Puppy campaigns and the quite different world of video games. Technological change and shifts in consumer habits had meant that the dominant publishers of superhero comic books (Marvel and DC) were dealing with a changing market. Fewer people were buying individual comics from speciality comic book stores and instead buying comics digitally or in collections/graphic novel formats. In addition, Japanese manga had become increasingly available to Western audiences since the 1990s. As with book publishing, people hadn’t stopped reading but the market had become less predictable and consumer choice had increased significantly[6].

Not unlike video-games, the comic book industry had also had a long history of difficult and often exploitative relationship not just with fans but also with the key people producing the creative work. In the new century, the value of the intellectual property of many classic superheroes had come to far exceed that of the sales of comic books — especially for Marvel (now owned by Disney) whose superhero movies were becoming must-see blockbuster films.

Digital tools and digital publishing also had reduced some of the barriers for the creation of independent comics. However, comics remained more complex and expensive to produce than written word books and required more collaboration between individuals. As with independently produced novels, aspiring comic book creators taking an independent path faced the same issue of how to stand out in a busy market.

The twenty-first century had brought many internet-based innovations but one of particular pertinence to this chapter was the rise of crowdfunding sites. Some of these sites, like GoFundMe[7], were focused on personal causes or charitable giving, others such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo were intended to help people fund specific projects[8]. The Kickstarter model was well suited to projects such as comics and graphic novels. The time and cost of writing and illustrating a comic involves significant risk for the people involved and being paid in advance of the work had obvious advantages by demonstrating that there was a paying audience for the proposed work.

Inevitably tying the culture war to crowdfunding comic books was a step that somebody was going to take.

Although it was not obvious in March 2017, the shine was coming off Vox Day’s Castalia House publishing project. When the Rabid Puppies campaigns finally ran out of steam, Day’s enthusiasm for publishing new science fiction novels would also wane sharply. Provoked by an article in The Federalist by Jon Del Arroz jumping on the trend of attacking diversity in comics, Day asked his followers if they’d be interested in crowdfunding a line of comics from Castalia.

“Is this something where a Kickstarter would make sense? I don’t like the idea of relying solely upon the Dread Ilk for this, as you are already supporting more vital projects such as Gab, Infogalactic, and Castalia House. Those are strategic projects of general interest, whereas something like this is more specific to a single converged market. My thought is that it would be interesting to subvert the current superhero genre with a group of nationalist superheroes who are totally opposed to the evil would-be rulers of the world; they’d be seen as villains, of course, by those who romanticized saving the UN every Saturday morning in the 1970s and 80s.”

Day had already had some work done illustrating his Quantum Mortis science fiction novel and while Castalia House’s back catalogue wasn’t huge, there was a variety of works he could adapt. Day was already using his many followers for more direct crowdfunding of his various projects (such as his alternate version of Wikipedia).

After considering the mainstream crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Day was faced with a dilemma. He wanted the campaign to be overtly controversial with some of the initial artwork featuring a vigilante hunting down an illegal immigrant who was a child rapist. By 2017, large tech companies had belatedly begun to become far warier of providing material support for the far-right and Day believed that Kickstarter would cave to the inevitable backlash to his campaign. Not that Day didn’t want a backlash (he hoped to provoke one) but he did not want a backlash of sufficient strength that it would derail the funding of the campaign.

In the end, Day used a new (and short-lived) crowdfunding site called Freestartr, the creation of a right-wing activist/entrepreneur Charles C. Johnson[9]. Freestartr was also used by Richard Spencer to crowdfund some of his legal fees in the wake of the disastrous Unite the Right rally[10]. The lowest level pledge for the project was at $10 and was named “Pull the Trigger”:

“This is for those who could not care less about comics, but enjoy tormenting SJWs and would enjoy the privilege of triggering them by being able to say “yeah, I did that.” We will send you a special digital portrait of Rebel, in her Alt★Hero outfit, blowing a kiss and saying “You’re welcome!” that you can send to people crying about it on social media.”

Your ten dollars would earn you a picture of “Rebel”, one of Day’s superhero characters — a young woman from the US South whose costume incorporated the design of a confederate flag.

Day’s campaign was a success raising $34,735, although nearly a third of that amount was from just three donors[11]. Freestartr as an overall project would be less successful due to being cut off by payment processing companies PayPal and Stripe in 2018.

The campaign resulted in Castalia gaining a new imprint called Arkhaven Comics and Day had a new channel to bring his combination of the culture war and commercial venture to the world.

This takes us to the fourth figure in the world of Comicsgate: Ethan Van Sciver[13]. A comic book artist who had had some success with DC and Marvel. Van Sciver had also notably provided the illustrations in 2017 for the highly popular right-wing self-help book 12 Rules for Life by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. Van Sciver’s YouTube channel Comic increasingly became the centre of Comicsgate activity, with his focus shifting from advice on illustrating comics to culture-war rhetoric and promoting figures such as Vox Day and Richard C. Meyer, and like Meyer adopted the anti-SJW rhetoric of Vox Day[14].

Both Meyer and Van Sciver took the culture war boost into crowdfunding their own comics projects in 2018. Meyer’s Jawbreaker: Lost Souls comic was announced as a Kickstarter project near the start of the year but his connection with the ongoing social media harassment of other figures in comics led to some comic book stores announcing that they would not stock the comic once it was released. These announcements led to new rounds of harassment:

“On the early morning of Friday, May 11th Meyer agreed with a fan’s joke about breaking the legs of those at the stores who refused to carry Jawbreakers, rallying his “army” around his cause. Shortly thereafter that morning, Variant Edition Culture & Comics was broken into, the glass was smashed through in the front of the store, and money was stolen from the register. There are strong suspicions from the shop’s owner and the local community that this was no coincidence. That afternoon despite the problematic violence, Meyer’s “army” continued to threaten Big Bang with unknown “consequences”.”

The subsequent storm led the publisher Antarctic Press to withdraw their plans to publish Jawbreakers with Meyer. In retaliation, Meyer started legal action against Antarctic Press and announced his own publishing company to produce the comic. Antarctic’s action was then characterised by Comicsgate supporters as further evidence of leftwing censorship.

Jon Del Arroz used his column in the prominent far-right web magazine The Federalist to frame the conflict over Jawbreakers as a battle for freedom of expression.

“Their backtracking had big implications for Meyer and his team, as the book would no longer be distributed to comic book stores. But there was little they could do about it. Antarctic Press was hit by a storm of industry professionals colluding to try to force conservative-authored competition out of the business, which was followed by several retailers threatening to drop all Antarctic Press books from their shelves if the publisher produced Meyer’s book. The precedent set is disturbing, but this kind of anti-conservative discrimination has been festering in the comics world for a long time.”

According to Del Arroz, Comicsgate was an anti-harassment campaign, pushing back against leftwing hate directed at conservatives within the comics industry.

With figures like Meyer and Van Sciver publishing their own comics using crowdfunding but also facing issues with potential boycotts from publishers, distributors and comic shops, Vox Day saw an opportunity. Day had already established a second comics imprint Dark Legion, intended for more creator-owned projects to compliment his Arkhaven comics. Day himself regarded the broader Comicsgate campaign less like GamerGate and more like the Sad Puppy campaign to the extent of overtly stating that “Comicsgate is Sad Puppies”[15] and prior to that describing Meyer and Van Sciver as “moderates”. This was both dismissive and also a way for Day to support Van Sciver’s claims that the Comicsgate campaign was somehow an apolitical consumer backlash against forced diversity. However, Day also recognised that “Comicsgate” as a brand name was attracting the attention of a large potential market for Arkhaven and Castalia House.

In September 2018 Vox Day staged a very small comic book coup d’etat.

Day announced the third imprint for his line of comics and registered the name in systems for the distribution of comics[16]. The name being “Comicsgate Comics”.

“Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, the Nazi-quoting nationalist most famous for gaming the Hugo Awards with bloc voting campaigns, has appropriated the “ComicsGate” name for a new comics publishing company. But adherents of the ComicsGate movement, though sharing his distate for diversity, are far from pleased.”

Day’s move to apparently control the term “Comicsgate” led to a furious backlash from Ethan Van Sciver. Day attempted to explain that he was not seeking to control the term but rather help creative people who wanted to support Comicsgate.

“Arkhaven is for the original material that we create. Dark Legion is what other creators bring to us for publishing. ComicsGate is similar to Dark Legion, but it is specifically for creators and fans who wish to make public their support for ComicsGate. We don’t claim to define ComicsGate, we don’t claim to be the official publisher of ComicsGate, and there will certainly be ComicsGaters who will utilize other publishers and distribution channels, this is merely our way of offering our structural support for the people and philosophy of ComicsGate.”

Day, Meyer and Van Sciver had already established social media followings of people involved in notable anti-SJW campaigns. The subsequent fight over the name “Comicsgate” was exactly as toxic as you would imagine setting warring armies of trolls against each other would be.

Caught in the middle was Jon Del Arroz. Arroz had used his social media presence and his platform on The Federalist to boost Van Sciver, Meyer and the Comicsgate hashtag. He also had allied himself with Vox Day and had books published via Castalia and comics distributed by Arkhaven including a forthcoming adaptation of MilSF writer Richard Fox’s Ember War series.

For the first time, Day found himself facing substantial opposition from people marginally to the left of him in anti-SJW right. Portrayed as a grifter and a carpet-bagger, new-found critics of Day discovered (as if they were new) some of Day’s more extreme views, including Day’s endorsement of the political mass murderer and child-killer Anders Brevik.

Right-wing anti-SJW comic review site, Bounding Into Comics made a call for peace.

“On September 3rd, 2018, Alt-Hero publisher Vox Day announced his prospective Comicsgate imprint right here on Bounding Into Comics, and it would be an insult to diarrhea to say that the Comicsgate community understandably lost their crap in response. Whether Vox Day was trying to do something he deemed to be positive for the movement, or he was just trying to co-opt it a la Sad Puppies…or both, is mostly irrelevant; the fallout from his move was quite real, particularly when it came to author and occasional BIC contributor Jon Del Arroz.”

Day, feeling the pressure had abandoned the idea of Comicsgate imprint and also wanted an end to the infighting but naturally did not want to concede defeat. He even took issue with how Bounding Into Comics described his relationship with the Sad Puppies.

“I would, however, like to correct one common misapprehension: I never co-opted Sad Puppies. To the contrary, I was the architect of the Sad Puppies most notorious success and at no point in time was there ever any conflict between the Sad Puppies and me. If you look more closely, you’ll notice that none of the four leaders of the Sad Puppies, from Larry to Kate, have ever made a single accusation on that score. I don’t intend to say any more than that, except to reiterate an absolute fact: I did not co-opt Sad Puppies and anyone who claims I did in any way, shape, or form is wrong.”

Day did not give up on his plans for Arkhaven but his attempt to involve himself more directly in Comicsgate had seriously backfired. More generally, Day had narrowed the field of support that he had in the online right. His feuds with figures such as Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin (people willing to adopt the more overt trappings of Nazism) had earned him enemies to his marginal right and now the Comicsgate infighting had earned him enemies to his marginal-left (i.e. people who had embraced his anti-SJW rhetoric but were warier of being seen as white nationalist extremists).

Jon Del Arroz had also found himself on the less fun side of a right-wing social media harassment campaign. By November 2018 he was declaring that Comicsgate was dead and that it was a failed movement[17]. Del Arroz also now conceded a point that many critics of Comicsgate had already observed: a lot of what was being produced by Comicsgate aligned crowdfunded campaigns were either low quality or late or both.

“It divided the audience, made everyone angry. There was no more to it than that. It didn’t help people sell books. A lot of small time creators who were not seeing the indiegogo returns as the bigger names got angry. They were promised a new day in comics, it didn’t come. Books started to fail in their goal, and all because the youtube crowd moved from trying to help everyone and lift all boats… to trying to protect their increasingly shrinking corner of fandom”

When Del Arroz was more openly criticised by Ethan Van Sciver, Del Arroz struck back making another point that critics of Day, Van Sciver and Del Arroz would find familiar.

“Many of these guys do not, however. They’re stuck. This youtube money was never going to last forever. The whole premise was based on outrage, not actual products, and so these guys have to perpetually stoke outrage — at Vox Day, at me, at Miss Sashi, at smaller creators (Ethan dedicated several shows to attacking a guy who had an indiegogo with less than 20 backers because he spoke ill of EVS), at fans even — who I won’t name to protect them. They’re using the same tactics as the pros at Marvel/DC that they were originally mocking to get big.”

Outrage marketing had found its limits.

Despite this, Comicsgate would continue to rumble on in subsequent years. Del Arroz still continued to crowdfund comics and Vox Day continued to push his Arkhaven line. Culture wars do not have neat or definitive ends.


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.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 65: Post Apupalypse 2018-2019”

Debarkle Chapter 64: Meanwhile…Trump Year One

[Content warning: discussion of historical cases of sexual assault and discussion of hate crimes and murder]

Me Too

Donald Trump was far from being the first US President to be credibly accused of sexual assault but he was the first to have been recorded boasting about it[1]. The day after Trump’s inauguration as US President saw large rallies in several American cities organised as the Women’s March[2]. The protests specifically cited the rhetoric of Trump and the Republican Party in the 2016 elections as a source of legitimate fear among multiple dimensions of society.

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.’

With an overtly misogynistic President in office, with the support of influential anti-feminist groups within the coalition of extremist groups known as the alt-right, there was good reason for women collectively to fear the new administration. However, Trump’s control over the Oval Office was not some sort of final victory in a long-running culture war. Societal change and cultural shifts were continuing and Trump’s level of national support in the US, while large, remained within a minority of Americans.

A recurring set of themes in this project has been the ability of women to fully participate in social and professional spaces, as well as the coordinated and uncoordinated push-back against these social changes. The prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment in workplaces (and other spaces) also played a role in excluding and marginalizing women. In the wake of revelations in late 2017 about the noted producer and film financier Harvey Weinstein’s long history of rape and sexual abuse of actors[3], the Me Too movement[4] became an international phenomenon in which people highlighted their experience of being sexually harassed or assaulted at work or in professional spaces. The impact of the movement was felt across party political lines with high-profile politicians in both parties coming under criticism for past behaviour.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 64: Meanwhile…Trump Year One”

Debarkle Chapter 63: What the Evil League of Evil (and Friends) Did Next

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!”


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.”


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[1], 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”

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[2]. This style of controversy, as well as GamerGate and the targeted harassment on social media of Black actor Leslie Jones[3], 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[4] 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)[5] led to even Mercer and Bannon[6] 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”[7]. 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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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[8] 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.”

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[9]. 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”[10]. 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[11].

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.

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 [12]. 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[13]. 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.”

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 awards

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,
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.

Pat Henry in a letter to Alison Littlewood, quoted on her blog

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.

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.”

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[14].

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.

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


Debarkle Chapter 62: The Last Dangerous Bark

Sad Puppies 5 had fallen apart due to the twin forces of apathy and infighting but the Rabid Puppies had always operated with more of a Führerprinzip. There was no ambiguity as to who was in charge nor was Vox Day about to crowdsource his recommendations. Day regarded himself as a master strategist with skills honed from the video game industry and from playing tabletop war games. For the 2017 Hugo Award nominations what he faced was E Pluribus Hugo — the proportional nomination method devised by multiple people in a series of epic discussion threads at the Making Light blog in 2015. Having been voted in by Worldcon members in 2015 and then ratified in 2016, EPH would have its first true outing in 2017.

Day had latched on to an idea of how EPH worked and decided to adopt a strategy that had become known as “bullet voting” where it was believed that concentrating your votes on one or two candidates would maximise the chance of your picks reaching the final ballot. In terms of the style of choices, Day’s 2017 Rabid Puppies slate followed a similar approach as 2016 but was limited to one or two per category as “bullet votes”. Those picks included works he wanted to promote from Castalia House, “hostage” nominations such as Neil Gaiman or File 770 intended to confuse voters, stuff he just liked such as a story by China Miéville and finally works intended to troll or discredit the Hugo Awards. After being humorously reversed trolled by Chuck Tingle in 2016, Day did not renominate Tingle but instead picked a different erotic space-dinosaur story “Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex” by Stix Hiscock.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 62: The Last Dangerous Bark”

Debarkle Chapter 61: The Sad Demise of the SP5

Proverbially every dog has its day but when that day has passed, some dogs leave not with a bark but with a whimper. There was always going to be a Sad Puppies 5 and in November 2016 Sarah Hoyt took on the mantle as chief organiser of the fifth iteration. Previously she had nearly taken on this role for Sad Puppies 3 and then again for Sad Puppies 4 but health and work had prevented her. What was clear to Hoyt was the coalition of fans and writers that had gathered to support the Sad Puppy campaign needed a new direction and that direction would not include the Hugo Awards.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 61: The Sad Demise of the SP5”

Debarkle Chapter 60: Dramatis Personae — The Next Generation

As a route to popular mainstream success in publishing science fiction, the controversy generated by the Puppy campaigns was not a winning strategy. Even on the side opposed to the Puppy campaigns, the main beneficiaries of increased traffic were blogs and fanzines. While opposing the Puppy campaigns didn’t hurt people’s writing careers it did not, on the whole, boost them. Alexandria Erin’s astute parodies and observations of the Puppies had given her a social media audience which grew further as she segued those skills into political commentary in the wake of Donald Trump’s election[1].

On the pro-Puppy side, there was no obvious damage to Larry Correia’s publishing success but he had already found his audience and a sympathetic publisher. Other Puppies such as Sarah Hoyt, Kate Paulk, and Dave Freer were already disgruntled with traditional publishing and by 2015 had increasingly seen hope in publishing ebooks independently through the vast markets created by Amazon and ebook readers such as the Kindle.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 60: Dramatis Personae — The Next Generation”

Debarkle Chapter 59: Meanwhile…Trump, Puppies and Pizza

“You ignorant low information bastards. Motivated by fear and anger, you overlooked every gain made over the last few cycles, and traded it in to a lying huckster democrat for some magic beans. So you could stick it to the establishment, by electing the shit bird who funded them.”

May 2016: what had been a long list of potential Republican candidates for US President had slowly whittled its way down to three. Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich suspended their campaigns on May 3, after the leading candidate Donald Trump had secured an unassailable lead in delegates for the convention[1]. That Trump had even lasted the first few months of the long race for the nomination had surprised people. That Trump had actually beaten all the other candidates was mystifying. Of the many factions and flavours of Republicans, Trump appeared to be a poor fit for most of them. He was neither a neoconservative nor a libertarian nor particularly religious. His positions on key issues such as gun rights or abortion had been inconsistent over the years, as had his party allegiance. Whichever way you sliced the Republican Party, it appeared to have a natural anti-Trump majority.

But that’s not how elections work. Trump had built up a reputation as a fighter and had attracted a base of support by maintaining his quixotic “Birther” campaign alleging issues with President Barack Obama’s birth certificate for years. For many Republicans, Trump was not offering to be the perfect compromise candidate for the party but rather a champion in a culture war against the Democrats and the left. That base of support kept Trump in the race while other candidates dropped out leaving him facing the uninspiring Cruz and the too-moderate-to-win Kasich. Trump’s capacity to generate publicity for himself had kept him in the news and his unapologetic approach to bad news coverage had earned him even more support.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 59: Meanwhile…Trump, Puppies and Pizza”