Ballad of Halo Jones

Hugogate Or The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies And Rabid Puppies

The logo of the Rabid Puppies slate, the Hugo Awards nomination list promoted by American, conservative Sci-Fi writer Theodore Beale or Vox Daly

When I was growing up in Ireland during the 1980s and ’90s possessing a passion for Science-Fiction almost inevitably led one to holding Left or Centre-left beliefs. Before I became interested in politics proper (and I’ll admit to having been reared in a “political household”) the progressive ideas that permeated Sci-Fi strongly influenced my view of the world. Because of Isaac Asimov and the Foundation series I was an atheist and humanist before I was aware that such philosophies even existed; thanks to Alan Moore and the Ballad of Halo Jones I was a feminist before I knew that equality required a label; and in tribute to Iain M. Banks and the Culture books I was a liberal before I learned that a laissez faire approach to how human beings wished to live was considered a definable thing. Of course becoming a pinko, PC, do-goodie, bleedin’-heart liberal was partly down to a healthy childhood dose of Fenian-tinged Irish republicanism. The more I learned, the more I wished to emulate and practice what I admired. If I looked to Patrick Pearse and “Not merely free but Gaelic, not merely Gaelic but free“, I also had an eye on Nemesis’ more simple – if less significant – “Credo!.

In terms of nationality and identity we are all accidents of birth and I was simply lucky enough to grow up on small island nation off the north-western edge of Europe that was open to influences from around the globe. Through that fortuitous happenstance I was exposed to the best of European SF – British, Franco-Belgium and Italian – while enjoying similar offerings from the United States, Canada, Australasia and Japan (similar because they were filtered through the views of publishers, editors, distributors and TV executives in Ireland, Britain, France, Belgium and elsewhere on the Continent who were catering first and foremost to the preferences of their own domestic markets). Books, comics, graphic novels, movies, television shows and, of course, art crafted my mind and personality.

Naturally, that does not mean that Sci-Fi lacks right-wing tendencies. While from the 1960s onwards Europe’s genre communities have moved very much to the Left (no doubt due to the influence of the ideological flirtations of socialism and communism with what we used to be known as “hard” SF, notably in the USSR) other people in other places have had far different experiences. In the United States Science-Fiction has always had a right-wing tilt, something that was once evident on this side of the Atlantic in the acquisitive imperial eras of the 19th and early 20th centuries. However while world wars, revolutions and post-colonial crises have eroded the conservatism of European SF in the US the Cold War and War on Terror seem to have encouraged it. This is particularly evident in the “culture wars” that have divided (and in some cases defined) American politics for some two or three decades now and which have inevitably infected the worlds of gaming and genre fiction. While the first has reached its zenith (or nadir) with the-so-called “Gamergate” controversy, the latter has experienced a slow rumbling series of conflicts and scandals that until recently rarely appeared outside of geekish circles.

Finally the idealogical to-an’-fro has reached its inevitable crescendo with what we might call “Hugogate”, a scandal spinning off from the annual Hugo Awards for the best in Science-Fiction publishing. This prestigious industry event is overseen by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and voted for by eligible fans. This year there has been a concerted effort by a number of ad hoc – if related – groupings to promote two suggested voting-lists known as Sad Puppies 3 and Rabid Puppies, with the aim of putting a block of politically acceptable writers – i.e. appealing to conservative and right-wing sentiment – into every nomination category. Many of these unfortunate individuals, most of whom seem to have nothing to do with with the campaigns, will have had their nominations overshadowed by the controversy and the growing accusations of vote-rigging (one can argue the latter point – as in when does lobbying become rigging? – but it is pretty much debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin). The Sad Puppies list is being run by Brad R. Torgerson and Larry Correia while the Rabid Puppies slate is being pushed by the writer – and unapologetic defender of White Anglo-Saxon and Protestant culture – Theodore Beale (a.k.a. Vox Daly), a hugely divisive figure in the world of SF publishing (if our very own climate-denying, bible-thumping politicos of the DUP were to do Sci-Fi, Beale’s is the type of Sci-Fi they would do!).

The author Philip Sandifer has probably been the most vociferous in his condemnation of the “politicisation” of the Hugo Awards and the World Science Fiction Convention or Worldcon:

“The Hugo Award Nominations have just been successfully hijacked by neofascists.

I want to pause, before I make any comments on the implications of that statement, and make it unambiguously clear that this is what happened. There were, this year, two organized and overlapping slates of proposed nominees – the Sad Puppies, promoted by Brad Torgersen, and the Rabid Puppies, promoted by Theodore Beale, who writes under the pen name Vox Day. Of these slates, the latter was the more successful and influential, with 87% of its proposed nominees ultimately getting nominated, forming 68% of the total Hugo nominations. Every single work nominated in the categories of Best Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Related Work, and Editor (both long and short form) came from those two slates, including two nominations for Theodore Beale himself, one in each editor category.

Theodore Beale opposes women’s suffrage, saying, “the women of America would do well to consider whether their much-cherished gains of the right to vote, work, murder and freely fornicate are worth destroying marriage, children, civilized Western society and little girls.” He believes that black people are less human than white people, saying of a black woman that “genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens.”

I admit that these two quotes leave me slightly uncertain as to what to say. They are, obviously, preposterously vile things to say. But they are so vile that they defy the usual rhetoric with which we respond to loathsome views. They are not positions or claims that polite society is really equipped to engage with. They are so far outside the bounds of what is socially acceptable in 2015 that it is difficult to imagine many forums in which they would even be permitted to be aired. I’d go with something glib like “even Fox News would sack someone who publicly expressed those views,” but even that seems insufficient. Truth be told, I have trouble thinking of any mainstream groups or organizations where someone who publicly espoused those views would not be ostracized.

Except, apparently, orthodox sci-fi/fantasy fandom, in which Theodore Beale has sufficient clout within orthodox sci-fi/fantasy fandom to select 68% of the Hugo Award nominees.

To be frank, it means that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom does not have any legitimacy right now. Period. A community that can be this effectively controlled by someone who thinks black people are subhuman and who has called for acid attacks on feminists is not one whose awards have any sort of cultural validity. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to functional communities. And the fact that it has just happened to the oldest and most venerable award in the sci-fi/fantasy community makes it unambiguously clear that traditional sci-fi/fantasy fandom is not fit for purpose.”

Science-Fiction – and Fantasy Fiction – in the United States deserves better than this. However one is left to wonder, with the increasing domination of the moving image over the written word, if the published form is now in permanent decline? And will the literature that emerges from this time of straitening cater only to a culture of flag-waving jingoism in order to survive?

Advertisements

8 comments

  1. I’ve read your previous comments on fantasy (Tolkien etal) so I know you know fantasy; hence my puzzlement regarding this post. When I was young I was a voracious reader of fantasy, I started drifting away in the 80’s as the genre seemed to become contaminated by a sci-fi sensibility. Look at some of the losers for best novel etc Elizabeth lynn over Patricia McKillip?Patrick Suskind over Gene Wolfe? I used to reliably buy Daltow’s, Year Best, damned if I could find great writing. Even her recommends were weak.

    I’ve only recently returned and have been caching up on my reading, all things considered, there doesn’t look like a lot to catch up on as the new writers are unremarkable, the best things are mostly criticism..On my return to fantasy the big news was the MZB scandal, it seemes the sci-fi community was covering up sex abuse at conventions and white washing the reputation of one of its stars. Then we had Harlan Ellison sexually assaulting Connie Willis, Issac Asimov was revealed as a sexual predator, Andy Offutt as a pornographer……..There’s problems in fantasy, and it’s not Vox Day. Oh yeah, please more musings on fantasy!

    1. Joe, I certainly could criticise the genre of Fantasy Fiction, and WorldCon does include the fantasy fields to an extent, but it is the gaming/politicisation of the Hugos which is making the in-community headlines. Fantasy has been stuck in a rut for decades (Tolkien clones are still being produced and lauded by those who should know better) however there is a strong strain of newer stuff coming through, personified by the likes of China Miéville and many others, who have been challenging the old conventions for a good while now.

      The Marion Zimmer Bradley scandal pretty much shocked both Fantasy and SF. I suspect it is not an isolated case, given the preponderance for such things in wider society (if we go by statistics alone. Though one hears rumours as well). Genre authors are no more virtuous than anyone else. As the Asimov and Harlan Ellison cases prove (though I might argue that the latter, given the more respectful and progressive times we live in, is more reprehensible).

      Andrew J. Offutt pretty much came out of the era of writing “erotic” fiction for Playboy one week and submitting a Sci-Fi short to Analog the next. Back then most of the genre artists and illustrators we now revere were doing salacious stuff for Penthouse and Playboy as well. Sure, I grew up on Métal hurlant.

      However, yep, I might take a cold look at Fantasy Fiction sometime soon.

      1. Thanks for the fine response. The Gammergate controversy is lost upon me, I don’t play games, and have no interest in playing them (I’m of a different generation), so lacking “emotional capital” I can’t even make an attempt to understand it. IMHO Hugogate is an all together other thing though. In reality, isn’t what Beal did, exactly what everyone else does? No one really believes the judging panel/system is a disinterested party acting from altruistic values from on high….do they? I’d rather see the various Fantasy/Sci-Fi Awards splinter into specialties (Traditional Heroic Fiction, Urban Fantasy, etc…) rather than have someone tell me Patrick Suskind was a better writer than Gene Wolfe. Again, thanks for the nice reply.

  2. No worries, the nutbags like Theodore Beale and his ilk are on the way out. They are hoping to leverage similar-minded folks with money to preserve a semblance of existence and influence, but the fanaticism they display is mostly due to the “dawn of the gods” coming for their kind.

    1. I like that end analogy. The thing that puzzles me about the Rightists in the SF genre is how many of them come from a background in various Christian cults, particularly the Mormons (LDS Church) and some other evangelical splinters. I’ve read and been told that the evangelicals form one of the pillars of Tea Party style politics but its hard to get one’s head around the idea that the likes of the Mormons could hold such influence.

      1. Woah, dude. Cults? Religion doesn’t have anything to do with the drive behind the guy’s intent. & since when did a religious view determine one’s abilities in representing an unfair agenda?

        What does disrespecting another person’s culture & philosophy have to do with the actual agenda at hand? Of all the articles I’ve read, yours is the worst. I’m not exactly sure what your direction is, all I know is you can’t research objectively. You build yourself up as an ideal person of reason & yet all you proved to me, as a reader, is that you are exceptionally biased & you need to do more research in your main article, & stop quoting the drivel that pushes your own agenda.

        I really dislike Larry Corria, & I’m not fond of that Vox guy, but I dislike you more because you are what all people should fight against. All authors, ALL OF THEM, have promoted themselves through their networks to their fans. So Vox is nothing new. & the sad puppy slate is for authors that are supposed to be entertaining, whose work may not promote a leftist agenda, which, in fairness, has been bringing good fiction down to levels of boring. The authors on slate are a wide range of women & men with varying backgrounds. They aren’t friends with the right people & they aren’t promoting agendas (or promote the wrong kind, according to the panel at WorldCon) in their books. These are authors that would normally get overlooked anyway, with or without Sad Puppies.

        Because of my research, I have learned why the rocket on a book no longer means more than a poor, repetitive read & is no longer valid in the ways it was in my childhood. The Hugos have been proved to be a group of friends who do not want anyone outside their group to promote anyone that they don’t feel meets their criteria. They promote themselves & their friends, & discount anyone based on the fact that the group just does not like them.

        This scandal is all on the side of the Hugos & I’m not sure how you managed to miss that. (I’ve read, like, 15 articles before yours. Really, how did you skip that conclusion?)

        When I started this research, I was already biased against Larry Corria, for political and personal reasons, but in regards to his campaign of awareness about the voting and slander campaigns of the WorldCon presenters, I have learned to respect him. And I have also learned quickly whom I don’t respect, & that is anyone who does little research other than to fuel their own bias. & I can’t validate your article because you’re obviously promoting your own agenda at the expense of honest journalism.

        1. In fairness, CJ, my left-wing beliefs are fairly obvious across my posts on ASF, albeit through an Irish filter – which in American terms might well place me on the “Far Left” spectrum. At home I’m merely centre-left 😉

          It would be hard for anyone with progressive views to be anything but dismayed by the appearance of the Puppy voting lists, lists that are avowedly political in nature (even if some deny that). While accusations of racism are deservedly made in a few cases, I recognise that in the main this is a political, Right-Left contest (or Conservative-Liberal, if you prefer).

          What I was commenting on, in a more general way, was the influence of various Christian off-shoots in the “culture wars” that are so visible in the United States (and which the Hugogate scandal reflects). Is it unfair to describe Mormonism as a “cult”? Many of the most conservative SF folk now come from a background in a number of minority Christian communities (think Orson Scott Card). Likewise these communities seem to have a disproportionate influence on the right-wing of US politics. That I find puzzling, while recognising the “nonconformist” nature of the US’ founding and the resultant socio-cultural heritage of that initial colonisation (topped up by militant Protestantism from Ireland, Scotland and England, of course).

          Scottish author Iain M. Banks was explicitly left-wing in his writing but his Culture books are some of the finest space-opera ever produced. So I disagree that “leftist agendas” are ruining SF. What is ruining it is repetition and variations on the same theme, ad infinitum!

          I linked to the home pages of those behind the Puppies in the post, so readers can make up their own minds by reading the explanations of Vox, etc. for what they were doing (something which most other critics did not do).

          In any case thanks for your Comment. If you have any more views please feel free to make them 🙂

Comments are closed.