Sad Puppies Reading Sci-Fi

This is a post about the science fiction world for people who don’t read science fiction. There’s an interesting culture battle going on within this community that I have found myself explaining to a number of friends the past few weeks, so I decided why not write a post that does just that. Thus, this post falls into the realm of informative more so than opinion piece; however, my opinion about the situation will be quite clear throughout. If you are part of the sci-fi world and have a different opinion or information to add, please jump into the conversation!

So first things first, in the science fiction world there are a number of big awards but the two biggest would be the Hugo Awards and the Nebula Awards. While the Nebula Awards are voted on and bestowed by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Hugo Awards are nominated and voted on by science fiction fans. In that sense, the Hugos are more like People’s Choice Awards. As long as you pay your membership fee to the World Science Fiction Society, you can participate in the “democratic” process. Let the chaos ensue.

This is slightly complicated, so stick with me.
In 2013, a writer named Larry Correia wrote a blog post asking his readers to band together and nominate his pulp fiction novel Monster Hunter LegionHis rationale was grounded in the conviction that, in the last decade, the contemporary science fiction literary world has been overrun by politically driven writers and critics, who only care about pushing out liberal message-fiction–not stories that are actually well-written and engaging.
Here’s an excerpt from that blog post:

(just imagine with me… Should I vote for the heavy handed message fic about the dangers of fracking and global warming and dying polar bears and robot rape as a bad feminist analogy with a villain who is a thinly veiled Dick Cheney? Or should I vote for the LAS VEGAS EXPLOSION SHOOTING EVERYTHING DRAGON HELICOPTER CHASE ORC SACRIFICING CHICKENS BOOK!?! Grglglgggggsllll………BOOM!)Larry Correia

This (unsuccessful) campaign was titled Sad Puppies. In an interview with Wired Magazine, Correia told writer Holly Andres that “he came up with the name after seeing an SPCA ad featuring forlorn canines staring into the camera, with singer Sarah McLachlan. ‘We did a joke based on that: That the leading cause of puppy-related sadness was boring message-fic winning awards,’ he said, laughing.” This small start evolved into what is now a much larger voter bloc/community of like-minded sci-fi & fantasy writers and fans, who publish a slate of recommended nominations every year. Though the community insists “The List” is not a slate but rather a collection of recommendations (see this post from 2016), “The List” is still a politically driven resistance attempting to flood the nomination pool with what the Sad Puppies deem as non-message fiction. Tasha Robinson for NPR described it this way: “A small Gamergate-aligned coalition who feel the Hugos, the annual science-fiction and fantasy awards voted on by people with WorldCon memberships, are becoming too liberal, leftist and inclusive. The coalition argues that conservative, straight, white (and mostly male) writers are being shut out by ‘affirmative action’ voting.”

Last year, this movement grabbed larger media attention when it (along with a more radical and overtly racist offshoot called the Rabid Puppies) managed to dominate the finalist ballots for the 2015 Hugo Awards. By this, I mean that many categories only had Sad Puppy or Rabid Puppy options from which to choose. Quite a number of nominees not associated with either organization asked to be removed from the official ballots, though the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies refused to remove those names from their own online slates. It put those writers in an awkward position because they found themselves not knowing whether their work had been nominated for its merit, or because of the publicizing efforts of these right-wing groups–ironically perpetuating the very type of situation that the Sad Puppies are supposedly trying to eradicate.

At the annual WorldCon, everyone in the larger sci-fi/fantasy community awaited the final results with bated breath–would the Sad Puppies succeed in completing taking over?

Nope. See there is this choice on every ballot called “No Award,” which prior to 2015 had rarely been used. This year, however, the overwhelming majority of voters made known their opinion about the Sad Puppies by selecting this option. In the end, the only Sad Puppy nomination to win an award was Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. But though last year’s Sad Puppy campaign did not seem very successful, because it dominated the nominations, it potentially shut out other more diverse voices from competing.

Which brings us to this year. Once again, the Sad Puppies have released their list of recommendations, many of which were nominated–though this year they drew from a wider and more generally popular set of options. On their website, they wrote: 

We want to make the Hugos bigger and more representative of fandom as a whole, to bring people in rather than give them an asterisk that looks kind of wrong (especially beside the rocket) to try to drive the “interlopers” out. SF is a big tent: we don’t want to kick out anyone, even writers of bad message fiction that makes puppies sad.Sad Puppies IV

So, why do I care about this culture battle?
I, for one, do not appreciate thinly veiled fictional propaganda, but I find the Sad Puppies’ premise to be ill-informed, founded on the same sort of fear narratives that have emerged from the Gamergate controversy, which targeted females in the video game industry and community. Science fiction and fantasy, as with all fiction, non-fiction and art in general, is fundamentally shaped by the political/social/religious perspectives of the creator. The best science fiction has always been driven by an author’s passionate exploration of some particularly loaded philosophical idea, whether that perspective would be considered left-wing or right-wing. Some of science fiction’s most celebrated authors from the 20th century are known for their politically charged but incredibly constructed narratives, for instance, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darknesswhich explores gender, any of Octavia Butler’s novels, which address issues of race, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars series, which tackles a number of environmentally driven questions. In fact, as I mentally flip through a wide variety of different authors and books, I can’t think of one title that wasn’t philosophically or politically loaded in some fashion. That’s the very reason I love this genre; it’s an amazing space in which to speculate about or posit one’s ideas about society and culture in a creative fashion.

Popular science fiction writer, Brandon Sanderson, wrote a really great response to why he proactively asked to be removed from any Puppy slate. It’s semi-lengthy, so I will refrain from posting it here, but if you are intrigued by this political drama, I highly recommend wandering over to his piece and reading what he wrote: Brandon Sanderson on the Hugo Awards 2016.

I’ve also included links to the Puppy websites and some of the news articles I referenced, so you can expand your reading on the topic:

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