Disclaimer: Two authors nominated for the 2015 Hugo Awards are contractors of Defy Media, LLC who write weekly and biweekly columns for EveryJoe.com. These authors had no involvement in this article. The opinions on the Hugo Awards expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Defy Media, LLC.
There’s a culture war on, and it’s been heating up in places you wouldn’t have guessed. You’ve probably tripped over one of the articles while stumbling through the messy playroom that is the information stupor highway. Various causes with “gate” added at the end have been waging furious battles against an encroaching social justice driven tribe that elected itself to be the authority on what is proper and what is world endingly racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic(lots of phobics)/ableist/etc.
Because of this tribe, good people who don’t necessarily agree with their philosophies go unrecognized for their works. Most creators are ignored, some are even bullied, but everyone is sick of it. Recently this culture war spilled over in a big way to the world of Sci-fi/Fantasy writing.
I say recently, but this philosophical favoritism is a problem that Larry Correia, writer of the best seller series Monster Hunter, has noticed for years, and he noticed it happening during the Hugo Awards, one of Sci-fi/Fantasy literature’s highest honors. Writers that deserved to be recognized might as well have been ghosts. The Hugos were becoming a place where you got an award for thinking about issues in the right way instead of your writing. Correia felt bad for his fellow writers, and so he decided to do something about it.
Soon he created the Sad Puppies campaign, which sought to bring to light the talented writers being ignored in favor of the cool kids. Deemed “PuppyGate” by Game of Thrones writer, George R.R. Martin, it attracted many to the cause over time, eventually overwhelming the awards and forcing a change.
One of those people that were attracted to the movement was a Chief Warrant Officer in the United States Army Reserve and award-winning science fiction writer by the name of Brad Torgersen. Recently we’ve seen the third iteration of the Sad Puppies campaign, and it was Torgersen that took the role as frontman. Because of this, he has been subjected to no small amount of media backlash and personal attacks, but he stood his ground and fought on.
I recently had the pleasure of asking Torgersen a few questions about the Sad Puppies campaign, it’s future, and his thoughts on some of the goings on in the Sci-fi/Fantasy world.
EveryJoe: When and how did you first come to the conclusion that the Hugo Awards were becoming tribal? Can you go into detail about that?
Brad Torgersen: For me, it was being on the Hugo ballot for the first time in 2012. I’d never done much deep digging into the process – and the culture – before then. I listened to a lot of scuttlebutt around the SFWA suite. The old-timers tell great stories, especially about the dirt in the field. The little secrets that nobody talks about openly. Campaigning for the awards was a juicy topic. Some people hated it. Others accepted it as a natural result of the awards even existing at all. But what really did it was seeing a book like John Scalzi’s Redshirts take Best Novel. Once that happened, it was pretty much plain to all: award is a pure popularity contest, and the guy with the most buddies and followers wins.
EJ: In a blog post, Doctor Who critical historian Philip Sandifer recently said that “the moral duty of progressive voices to form a blocking majority, and to loudly admit that fandom as it stands is broken, and that any work proclaimed to be the best of the year by a fandom this broken is demeaned by the association.” Do you think the outrage against Sad Puppies is ultimately because you broke the “blocking majority” that Progressives feel is their moral duty to maintain?
Torgersen: I feel like this is very much about totems. I wrote a long article today, talking about tribalism, and how Worldcon Fandom has reacted to having outside tribe(s) coming to “take away” the totem that is the Hugo Award. We’re committing near-sacrilege when we do that. But the chief problem is that the Hugos self-label as being the award for everybody while Worldcon wants to keep the total deciding process internal to itself; no out-tribe people allowed. An award for all, decided by the few. That’s the core of the problem. So, if the progressives feel a duty to keep out-tribe people from participating, I feel a duty to put a hand to their faces and say, “No, you don’t get to decide who is and is not a fan, or who is and is not worthy.”
EJ: How do you respond to his assertion that the Sci-fi/Fantasy fandom is no longer valid due to your intervention? How about to his accusations of you and Sad Puppies participants being “neo-fascists?”
Torgersen: If we’re talking Fandom (caps f) then I think Fandom stopped being valid when the movie Star Wars debuted in 1977. When that movie hit – when the entire franchise hit – almost everyone in the Western developed world became a fan. Through the 1980s and 1990s science fiction and fantasy took over all the major popular mediums: movies, television, games, you name it, SF/F was big. Hundreds of millions of fans, especially if we include Japanese animation and manga, and role-playing. But Fandom (caps f) kept pretending like it, and it alone, understood what SF/F was about. The bigger entertainment world – all the millions of fans – left Fandom behind. And this is something Fandom deliberately did to itself. They are proud of being left behind.
EJ: Do you think the people who nominated the Sad Puppies slate were familiar with the works? Or is it possible your Hugo Award nominees won simply due to the fact that they were suggested by Sad Puppies and not off their artistic merit, and that the backlash against the insider voting that skewed the selection process has just caused it to slant in the opposite direction?
Torgersen: Certainly guys like Jim Butcher are widely read. So I think everybody was familiar with the Dresden books. I think some of the shorter fiction authors were not known to our supporters, but I have gotten a lot of e-mail from SP3 people saying, “I am so glad you recommended Annie Bellet, I just read her stuff and she is awesome!” or “Kary English’s stuff is amazing! I am so glad I know about her now!” So obviously somebody is reading them. It helps that Larry book bombed all of them on his blog. Thanks to Larry, many thousands of copies of those stories and books were sold. So I like to think Sad Puppies 3 really is a reader movement; not just two guys getting their friends to help with a political stunt.
EJ: In an interview with Adventures in SciFi Publishing you said that if the Hugos continued down the same path it has been, then the Hugo Award would suggest a social justice mentality filled with moral ambiguity and bucking old tropes. Can you explain why people who don’t necessarily agree with your politics should care?
Torgersen: If they want SF/F to still exist as a commercial genre in 20 years, they should care. SF/F is dangerously close to losing what’s left of its audience – the same audience that made it go big in the late 1970s, around the same time Star Wars went big too. Movies and TV remembered what made audience show up in throngs, but literary SF too often seems to think giving audiences what the audiences want is bad. SF/F right now – in the written form – is all wrapped up in trying to chase the academic literary carrot. To become a plaything for colleges and universities and niche critiquing by niche critics. We don’t need that. Good SF/F always starts with adventure and exploration first. Message and meaning are the rider on the horse. Get the order right, and you have a good story. But many writers (and editors) these days, seem to want to freight the rider with the horse. Wrong order. You lose readers that way.
EJ: How do you respond to George R. R. Martin’s assertion that the Sad Puppies campaign “has broken the Hugos?”
Torgersen: I think George ultimately realizes that Sad Puppies 3 ripped the curtain away. There can be no more pretending that the Hugos are some kind of pristine process that magically reflects the actual tastes of a wide body of SF/F readers. The Hugos are a small award, voted on by a small population of fans and readers who inhabit a small monoculture that increasingly seems totally disconnected from the wider world of fans. George is old enough to remember when Worldcon really was the wider world of fans. I think he understands that the truth can’t be dodged any longer – that the smallness of the Hugos has been exposed, and the djinni can’t ever be put back into the bottle.
EJ: With the wild success of Sad Puppies 3, do you intend to carry on with a Sad Puppies 4? What will be different, and what will stay the same?
Torgersen: Kate Paulk is taking Sad Puppies 4. I will be on an Army deployment to the Middle East through the end of this year, and part of next. So I will be somewhat periphery to the project. I am sure all of us will need to recharge our batteries after the extreme drama this year. But yes, I think we (the brain trust of Sad Puppies 4) want to continue for as long as people will keep volunteering to take their turn in the hot seat. This year it was my turn. Next year it’s Kate’s. Then, the year after, maybe it’s somebody else?
Until or unless WSFS locks us out – with administrative maneuvering designed to block distance voting, or something along those lines – we want to make our presence felt. Certainly nobody complained when all the quiet campaigning was going on. And that was true for many years.
We didn’t invent the sausage press, we just built the best one to date.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Brandon Morse has been writing about politics and culture across many websites for the last six years, with a heavy emphasis on anti-authoritarianism. Aside from writing articles, he is also known for voice acting and authoring scripts. He is an avid gamer, dog person, and has a bad habit of making vague references to things no one has heard about or seen. Follow him at @TheBrandonMorse on Twitter.