What a time to be alive! Liberals write for Breitbart, a cartoon girl in green and purple is a symbol of terror for the authoritarian Left, and now an online campaign with a manatee for a spokesperson is exposing political cliques in the world of science fiction and fantasy publishing.
In February, we reported on the “Sad Puppies” campaign, a tongue-in-cheek bid by science fiction & fantasy (SF&F) authors to draw attention to an atmosphere of political intolerance, driven by so-called “social justice warriors,” that is holding the medium back. Spearheaded by authors Larry Correia and Brad R. Torgersen, the campaign sought to break the stranglehold of old cliques by encouraging a more politically diverse group of fans to take part in the annual Hugo Awards.
A week of rumours about the campaign’s success were confirmed this Saturday with the announcement of the final Hugo Awards ballot. Authors and works endorsed by the Sad Puppies nominations slate swept the field, a reflection of just how many new fans the rebel authors have brought into the Hugo process.
Recommendations from Vox Day’s allied Rabid Puppies slate also dominated. Indeed, in the categories of Best Novella, Best Short Story, and Best Novelette, the two slates swept the entire field, an astonishing achievement for a genre some considered to be wholly owned by the social justice tendency just a few short years ago.
It’s worth noting that the Sad Puppies were not the first group to propose a slate of suggested nominations. The trend was started by former president of the Science Fiction Writers Guild of America, John Scalzi, who hosted an annual “award pimpage” post on his blog. British writer Charles Stross followed his example. But there was little semblance of a backlash to either Stross or Scalzi, who were both deeply embedded in the existing clique.
And yet, following today’s news, the same people who fawned over Scalzi erupted in outrage, apparently because some of the Sad and Rabid Puppies organisers and authors are identified as libertarians — or even, shock horror, conservatives.
Earlier today, I tried to inform a Guardian contributor about Scalzi’s record of nomination slates. I noticed he was preparing a story on the Hugo Awards, and, as a fellow journalist, I thought I’d provide him with some relevant information. His response was to block me.
It really is hard to part a man from his double standards. But the fact is, the Sad Puppies are playing by rules established by Scalzi and his clique — and they’re winning.
The chief complaint from the Sad Puppies campaigners is the atmosphere of political intolerance and cliquishness that prevails in the sci-fi community. According to the libertarian sci-fi author Sarah A. Hoyt, whispering campaigns by insiders have been responsible for the de facto blacklisting of politically nonconformist writers across the sci-fi community. Authors who earn the ire of the dominant clique can expect to have a harder time getting published and be quietly passed over at award ceremonies.
As with GamerGate, the political biases of a small elite has led to the exclusion of those who think differently — even if they’re in the majority.
Brad R. Torgersen, who managed this year’s Sad Puppies campaign, spoke to Breitbart London about its success: “I am glad to be overturning the applecart. Numerous authors, editors, and markets have been routinely snubbed or ignored over the years because they were not popular inside WSFS or because their politics have made them radioactive.”
Torgersen cites a host of authors who have suffered de facto exclusion from the sci-fi community: David Drake, David Weber, L.E Modesitt Jr, Kevn J. Anderson, Eric Flint, and of course Orson Scott Card — the creator of the world-famous Ender’s Game, which was recently adapted into a successful movie. Despite his phenomenal success, Scott Card has been ostracized by sci-fi’s inner circle thanks to his opposition to gay marriage.
Torgersen and Correia have a name for that inner circle. They call them the CHORFs – Cliquish, Holier-than-thou, Obnoxious, Reactionary, Fanatics. It’s roughly equivalent to social justice warrior, the internet pejorative used to describe politically intolerant activists who use social shaming and abuse to dominate communities (while enthusiastically painting themselves as the victims of both).
The Humbling of Tor
The epicenter of the clique’s influence is Tor books and its domineering editors, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden. It also encompasses the ultra-progressive John Scalzi and his fans, who began the trend of nomination slates and bloc voting. The CHORFs’ position as the only organized clique in sci-fi allowed them to dominate awards nominations for years. That’s why the Sad Puppies are such a shock to the system.
Tor Books claimed the Locus Award for best publisher for 26 years in a row, and has won 38 of 156 Hugo nominations in the last 30 years. In 2014, when Tor.com was founded, it claimed 50 percent of short story nominations at the Hugos, 40 percent of novella nominations, and 20 percent of the novelette nominations. Its influence allowed widely-ridiculed, sub-Tumblr standard works of fiction such as If You Were a Dinosaur My Love and Chicks Dig Time Lords to make the ballot.
The Sad Puppies campaign (originally called “Sad Puppies Think of the Children” — a dig at activists who use faux empathy to win social acceptance) was conceived by bestselling author Larry Correia in 2013. Correia hoped to force the CHORF clique into the sunlight by threatening their status. Instead of welcoming the arrival of new, politically diverse fans to the community, Correia predicted that the CHORFs would engage in an angry backlash to protect their influence.
He was not disappointed. As news of the Sad Puppies’ success trickled into the CHORFs’ network of insiders this week, they began a very public meltdown. In a thousand-plus page discussion on Teresa Nielsen-Hayden’s site, the clique left readers with no illusion about the fact that new fans were not welcome.
With no basis whatsoever, both Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden suggested that the influx of new nominators were not “true” sci-fi fans, and threatened to unleash “fannish wrath” against the new arrivals:
“Those of us who love SF and love fandom know in our hearts that the Hugo is ours. One of the most upsetting things about the Sad Puppy campaigns is that they’re saying the Hugo shouldn’t belong to all of us, it should just belong to them.
“The Hugos don’t belong to the set of all people who read the genre; they belong to the worldcon, and the people who attend and/or support it. The set of all people who read SF can start their own award.”
Who knows what we should call the fans who don’t meet Nielsen-Hayden’s approval. Wrongfans, perhaps. Or “the vast majority of the reading public.”
Strip away the spin, and what Nielsen-Hayden is actually saying is that the Hugo Awards belong to Tor books and their associated in-group. The anger of the Nielsen-Haydens has less to do with principles, and more to do with the fact that only three Tor-published works made the final ballot this year. Compared to their performance in previous years, this is a humiliating defeat.
The backlash begins
Naturally, many of the clique’s members are trying to claim foul play. Some argue that campaigning for nominations is inherently unfair — despite the fact that CHORF-approved authors like John Scalzi and Charles Stross have openly campaigned for Hugo votes and nominations in the past.
Others argue that the Sad Puppies campaign is a vehicle of self-promotion for its creator, Larry Correia. Allegations that he is using the slate to advance his own works have dogged him since 2013. This year, however, he put a stop to the allegations once and for all by turning down his own nomination. Correia always maintained that he has no interest in winning or being nominated for an award, and now he has proven it.
Perhaps the most bizarre allegation is the claim that supporters of the Sad Puppies constitute their own clique, and are trying to achieve dominance for conservative and libertarian authors. The presence of liberals and progressives like Anne Bellet, Kary English, and Rajnar Vajra on the nomination slate appears to have escaped critics. Correia, Hoyt, Torgerson and others have always maintained that their goal is to end political intolerance in sci-fi, not reinforce it.
It’s likely that the CHORFs are simply projecting their own behavior on to others. When you’ve been engaging in political intolerance for so many years, it must be hard to imagine that anyone thinks differently. As soon as news of the Hugo nominations began to spread, these closed-minded bigots — there is no other word — started angrily discussing options to deny the Sad Puppies a fair shot at prizes. Instead of actually reading and evaluating authors, they are now discussing voting for “No Award” — the Hugo equivalent of spoiling your ballot paper.
The #GamerGate of sci-fi
Despite the outrage, the Sad Puppies campaign has been a resounding success. A new class of sci-fi fans has been introduced to the process, and the CHORF clique has suffered a major, and perhaps fatal, blow to its authority. The dominance of TOR books and its associated clique has been broken, and publishing houses that respect political diversity, such as Baen Books and Castalia House, now have a seat at the table.
Vox Day, Lead Editor of Castalia House, commented on the nominations:
I’m very pleased that science fiction readers so strongly supported the Sad Puppies recommendations. It’s fantastic to see John C. Wright, one of the true grandmasters of science fiction, finally receiving some long-overdue recognition. It’s a real privilege to publish him and we’re delighted to learn that his six Hugo nominations this year set a new record.
A professional game designer and early supporter of #GamerGate, Day credited the gamers’ rebellion with giving hope to sci-fi fans.
The connection between Sad Puppies and #GamerGate is that both groups are striking back against the left-wing control freaks who have subjected science fiction to ideological control for two decades and are now attempting to do the same thing in the game industry. #GamerGate has shown people in science fiction, in fantasy, in comics, and even in journalism that you don’t have to hide what you truly think anymore because SJWs are going to attack you and try to drive you out of a job. You can read, write, develop, and play what you want without fear of their disapproval.
Vox Day is well known in the sci-fi community as a right-winger. But people of all political persuasions have rallied to his call for intellectual, political and creative freedom. That, ultimately, is what the Sad Puppies hope to achieve — a community where creativity and artistic merit count for everything, and where social and political conformity count for nothing.
Sci-fi fans, gamers and comic-book readers. Students and academic
This is particularly apparent online, where the tactics of shaming and social exclusion take place in full public view rather than in backroom whispering campaigns — and where the oppressed have access to precisely the same tools the oppressors do.
The Sad Puppies have struck a blow for creative and intellectual freedom. But their campaign is just one part of a wider movement against the forces of the authoritarian left, whose allies are decreasing by the day. Whether they are called CHORFs, SJWs or Stepford Students, authoritarians, finger-waggers, bullies and panic-mongers are facing a backlash across dozens of fronts as the defiant spirit of GamerGate floods into other fandoms.
Ordinary people are utterly fed up with the dominance of cliquish culture warriors whose bizarre opinions do not reflect those of the majority. They are fed up with being told what to do, what to believe, and whom to exclude. Wherever and whoever they may be, crusaders for political and social conformity are in the midst of a storm. And that storm is only just beginning.