One of the comments that was put up on my web site while I was out of town was a long one by Brad Torgersen. Because of Brad’s prominence in the debate over the Hugo Awards, I think it’s incumbent on me to respond to him. My response is going to be long because I’m going to put it all up in one post today. I’m doing that because Brad will be deploying soon and is likely to lose access to the internet for a while. I don’t think it’s fair for me to criticize his arguments if he can no longer respond.

Whether he chooses to respond or not will be his decision. If he does, I will make no further responses to him beyond this one. I think the argument we’re having about the Hugo awards is approaching its productive limits.

I will make one more post in a day or so, but that one will deal purely with my own practical suggestions for ways I think the Hugo awards could be improved.

The post by Brad that I’m responding to here is a long one—you can find it in the thread under “AND AGAIN ON THE HUGO AWARDS”—so I think this will work best if I begin by quoting all of it. My reply will come afterward:

(the original comment can be found in context at this link — webmaster)

 


“The following is general commentary, not directed at Eric Flint per se. But at the body of the thread and all the comments as a whole.“The thing about self-identifying progressives in 21st century America is that they don’t realize when they’ve won. Especially in the field of SF/F publishing. You cannot fight against The Man when you are The Man. In SF/F publishing, progressives make up the vast bulk of editors, authors, artists, and publishers. Oh, they will quibble about differences between them — in fine detail — but taken as a whole picture, the field of SF/F is a thoroughly progressive playhouse. Trying to explain to a progressive the existence of progressive prejudice (against conservatives, especially in a media entertainment arena) is like trying to explain to a trout that water is wet. The trout simply gapes at you goggle-eyed and exclaims, “But sir, that is the very nature of the universe!”“Someone up-thread pulled a quote from my blog, and I want to re-emphasize a portion of it.

“Sad Puppies 3 was “open source” and demanded nothing, threatened nothing, nor did it badger anyone. I state again: we were open source, we demanded nothing, we threatened nothing, nor did we badger anyone.

“The opponents of Sad Puppies 3 — some of whom I would be tempted to call puppy-kickers — have threatened, demanded, and badgered a great deal. This wasn’t a life-or-death bloodsport until the progressive guardians of the field decided that Sad Puppies 3 was justification for open war. They happily became (and in most instances, remain) puppy-kickers. And they are proud of themselves for it, too.

“I guess inviting more people to the table is the most horrible thing in the SF/F world?

“Because that’s what happened: Sad Puppies 3 invited more people to the table, not less. We wanted to make the tent bigger.

“The puppy-kickers have busied themselves trying to find ways to evict people from the tent. For ideological infractions. For taste infractions. For insufficient “fan cred” as defined by the denizens of Worldcon — some of whom are obsessed with keeping Fandom a capital-f affair, for capital-f people only.

“Sad Puppies 3 wanted to push back against blind spots, and get recognition for new and established authors alike.

“The puppy-kickers used that as an excuse to scream “NO AWARD!”, while at the same time threatening careers, using lies and character assassination against myself and Larry Correia in particular, and to also try to cajole deserving people to withdraw from the ballot.

“Remind me, again, who “loves” Science Fiction & Fantasy? Who pissed in the cornflakes, to borrow one user’s analogy?

“Sad Puppies 3 never said the Hugo award should go to only the works or people we like, or to only the works or people who flatter our ideologies. We merely wanted a share of the pie for works and people who’d otherwise struggle to get that share.

“The puppy-kickers have absolutely stated — over and over again — that the Hugo award should go to only the works and the people whom the puppy-kickers deem worthy — for all definitions of “worthy” which include, “Must almost always be left-leaning in ideology, and satisfy our stuffy criteria where taste is concerned.” Moreover, the puppy-kickers have stated that the “wrong” voters should be kept out of the process, and that the “wrong” fans are not welcome to participate.

“Got it? The puppy-kickers have been screaming GO AWAY at the top of their digital lungs.

“And yet the puppy-kickers pretend to claim the mantle of “inclusiveness”? How does that work? You’re “inclusive” by erecting walls, calling people names, and sticking your nose in the air?”


Let me begin with the key sentence in the second paragraph, since that is in many ways the real substance of the debate. To refresh everyone’s memory, here it is again:

“In SF/F publishing, progressives make up the vast bulk of editors, authors, artists, and publishers. Oh, they will quibble about differences between them — in fine detail — but taken as a whole picture, the field of SF/F is a thoroughly progressive playhouse.”

Is Torgersen’s depiction of the state of F&SF today an accurate one, in political terms? The answer is…

To some degree, yes—although the conclusions that Torgersen draws are false, for reasons I will discuss in a moment. But the degree to which his accusation has some substance has to do with professional editors. Authors span the spectrum politically, as do publishers. But professional fiction editors—probably anywhere in publishing unless there is a conscious counter-selection process—will tend to be shifted to the left in their political views compared to the American population as a whole.

Why is this true? Basically, for two reasons. First, being a professional editor is not a particularly remunerative occupation. That’s a fancy way of saying the work pays like crap, at least adjusted against the training and skill level required. In turn, that means that most people who choose to become professional editors do so for reasons that go beyond purely economic motives. Simplifying a good deal, most editors enter the profession because they really care about writing and story-telling.

Which means, in turn, that they are usually people who majored in literature or some other branch of the humanities in college—and, at least in the United States, those branches of learning are generally left-leaning in terms of politics.

To be sure, some of those people shift their views after leaving college. A fine example is Baen Books’ own publisher, Toni Weisskopf. She graduated from Oberlin College, as splendid and certainly long-lasting an incubator of progressivism as you can find in American higher education. Sadly—from my point of view, not hers—she jettisoned that outlook after she entered the world of professional publishing.

But Toni Weisskopf is more the exception than the rule. So far, therefore, Torgersen is correct. Where he goes wrong is in his assumption—obvious if not made explicit in these comments—that this is somehow a recent development.

But it isn’t. The situation with editors that Torgersen depicts is true today, yes. It was also true ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago, forty years ago—about as far back as you can go in publishing, at least for a century. So this factor obviously can’t serve as an explanation for what is one of the central grievances of Torgersen and the rest of the Sad Puppies, which is that F&SF has gone astray from some supposed “golden age” when the majority of editors weren’t liberals.

That golden age never existed. Consider this depiction by Samuel R. Delaney, whose long and illustrious career began in the early 1960s:

“Understand that, since the late ’30s, that community [F&SF], that world had been largely Jewish, highly liberal, and with notable exceptions leaned well to the left. Even its right-wing mavens, Robert Heinlein or Poul Anderson (or, indeed, Campbell), would have far preferred to go to a leftist party and have a friendly argument with some smart socialists than actually to hang out with the right-wing and libertarian organizations which they may well have supported in principal and, in Heinlein’s case, with donations.”

Is the field of fantasy and science fiction riddled with and divided by politics? Yup, sure is—and always has been, and always will be. But the notion advanced by Torgersen and the Sad Puppies that “progressives”—which, by the way, is another slippery term—have some sort of hammerlock on science fiction’s major awards is…

I’m trying to think of a more polite term than “ludicrous,” but I honestly can’t. And the main reason it’s ludicrous is that the villains Torgersen points to—to remind you, it’s all the pros: “editors, authors, artists, and publishers”—don’t decide who gets the Hugo awards in the first place.

That decision is made by the fans, not the professionals. So the charge advanced by Torgersen only makes sense if the real source of the leftist rot is the very people he’s trying to persuade to stop being a lot of rotten leftists.

As I said—ludicrous. Torgersen is literally demanding that the people who decide who gets the Hugo awards must have a brain transplant. And if they refuse—a prediction, here: they will—then they’re a pack of—of—

Well, fish. In his own words:

“Trying to explain to a progressive the existence of progressive prejudice (against conservatives, especially in a media entertainment arena) is like trying to explain to a trout that water is wet. The trout simply gapes at you goggle-eyed and exclaims, ‘But sir, that is the very nature of the universe!’”

(This is a niftily written couple of sentences, by the way. Whatever I think of his reasoning on this issue, Brad Torgersen is a damn good writer.)

My question now is:

If Torgersen and the Sad Puppies genuinely think that—and I quote—“taken as a whole picture, the field of SF/F is a thoroughly progressive playhouse,” then why do they want a Hugo Award in the first place? According to the logic of Torgersen’s own argument, the Hugo Award should rightfully be renamed the Political Correctness Award. (Popularly known as the Huggy due to its obsession with non-judgmental inclusiveness of anything except nasty rightists who don’t like to hug anyone anyway so screw them.)

I am not joking. If the people who bestow the Prometheus Award ever lose their minds and decide to give it to me—not likely, to say the least—then I would refuse to accept it. Politely, of course, since it’s bad manners to be rude to people who are trying to be nice to you. But I’d still refuse to accept. While I like a number of libertarians personally, I am not a libertarian myself nor do I agree with or approve of libertarianism as a political philosophy.

So why would Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia want to accept a Hugo in the first place, given that they think the award has become essentially a political one—and one with whose politics they vehemently disagree?

Consider this statement by Torgersen:

“The puppy-kickers have absolutely stated — over and over again — that the Hugo award should go to only the works and the people whom the puppy-kickers deem worthy — for all definitions of “worthy” which include, “Must almost always be left-leaning in ideology, and satisfy our stuffy criteria where taste is concerned.” Moreover, the puppy-kickers have stated that the “wrong” voters should be kept out of the process, and that the “wrong” fans are not welcome to participate.”

I will leave aside for the moment—just for the moment; we’ll come back to it—Torgersen’s perennial habit of substituting the pronoun “they” for any and all actual identities. I will leave aside for the moment the fact that the statement makes wildly general accusations that I defy Torgersen to substantiate with actual citations. As ever—George R.R. Martin has criticized them for it also—the Sad Puppies’ favorite rhetorical tactic is paraphrasing. Let a couple of birds somewhere chirp a few discordant notes and a spokesman for the Sad Puppies will report the incident as flocks of carrion-eaters are descending on poor puppies struggling in the desert, cawing their glee at the imminent rending of flesh.

But leave all that aside. Even taken at face value, the statement bears no relation to reality whatsoever.

Let me approach this from different angles. From one angle, is it true that “the [as always completely nameless] puppy-kickers” who presumably control the Hugo awards [by what method? who knows, but they must] see to it that the awards must only go to works which “Must almost always be left-leaning in ideology, and satisfy our stuffy criteria where taste is concerned.”

Really? Then how to explain the fact that the author who has received more Hugo nominations than any other in the history of the award is one Mike Resnick? (He’s also one of the top winners of the award.) Nor is this ancient history since the most recent nomination Resnick got for a short story was in 2012.

Were the puppy-kickers asleep at the switch?

And while I’m thinking about it… Dammit, where the hell were they when Virtuous Lefties like me and Mercedes Lackey and Steven Brust got passed over, year after year after year?

Let’s look at it from the opposite angle. Implicit in Torgersen’s statement is the notion that “progressive” or “leftwing” fiction is tied to “stuffy criteria.” I.e., that lefties lean toward so-called literary fiction whereas stout and stalwart right-wingers prefer fiction that is red-blooded and full of action and excitement.

The problem with this narrative is that someone forget to tell the New Yorker magazine, which is pretty much the epitome in America of liberalism and a preference for stuffy lit’rachure. Just recently, the New Yorker—which almost never deigns to notice F&SF—ran a laudatory article on a science fiction author. The byline, in fact, was “Sci-Fi’s Difficult Genius.”

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/sci-fis-difficult-genius

Sadly for the Sad Puppy thesis, the author is Gene Wolfe—who is politically quite conservative, a devout Catholic, and a man whose fiction is usually in one way or another illuminated by his religious outlook. And who is also, without a doubt, one of the half dozen finest literary authors in the history of fantasy and science fiction.

And someone forget to tell me—and Mercedes Lackey, and Steven Brust, and plenty of other leftwing SF authors—since none of us write very much in the way of what’s generally considered “literary fiction.” In my case, only two novels out of almost fifty could really qualify as “literary fiction” and then only if you’re willing to allow that a comic surrealist treatment of Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 infused with affectionate riffs on the works of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville are anything but lunacy masquerading as fiction. But one of the books—that would be Forward the Mage—has a grammatically valid (albeit insane) sentence that’s 430 words long and the other novel—that would be The Philosophical Strangler—has a serial murderer for a hero. I mean, how literary can you get?

Still, that leaves forty-six or so novels of mine not one of which can be considered anything but stout story-telling of Ye Olde School.

And finally, there’s this: If the Sad Puppies are so opposed to “literary fiction” as opposed to “the good old stuff,” then why in the world did they nominate John C. Wright for a Hugo Award? And, in a previous year, so-called “Vox Day”?

Leave aside the political and social statements and attitudes of Wright and Vox Day. Consider them, for a moment, simply as fiction authors. What they are, in a nutshell, are…

Literary authors. Contemplate, for a moment, the story by Wright that is nominated for best short story in this year’s Hugos. The story is titled “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” and—

It’s every bit as dreary as it sounds, from a sturm und drang let’s have a nifty action tale! point of view.

Nothing happens in this story. Literally, nothing. A bunch of animals sit around having a religious/philosophical/political debate.

In short, a lot of talk. Jabber-jabber-jabber, coated with a really heavy slathering of allegory.

Action? We’ll, let’s see…

Okay, at one point the Horse rears on his hind legs and shakes his great black mane. Ooooo…

At another point, Lion unsheathes his claws and roars. Ooooo…

At yet another point, the Lion raises his paw! Oooooooooooooooooo…

Then… well, the Cat washes herself and the Hound snarls and barks… the Cat yawns and stretches… later she waves her tail and the Fox barks…

Yeah, I know I’m reaching—but this is all there is. I’m not making it up. Compared to this stuff, a Henry James story is downright riveting.

Then, contemplate the use of language in the story. Here’s a sample:

“Above the boulevards and paved squares where merchants once bought and sold ivory and incense and purple and gold, or costly fabrics of silks from the east, or ambergris from the seas beyond the Fortunate Isles, and auction houses adorned and painted stood where singing birds and dancing girls were sold to the highest bidder or given to the haughtiest peer.”

This is an example of what I think of as the Saudi School of Prose. No noun may go out in public unless she is veiled by grandiloquence and accompanied by an adjective.

You can have a high opinion or a low opinion of this story—for the record, mine is pretty low—but the one opinion you simply can’t have is that this is anything but literary fiction.

A side note: Yes, I know this isn’t the story nominated by the Sad Puppies. The problem is that the story they did nominate is a damn novella and I had a hard enough time plowing through a short story by Wright. I did look at the novella, as well as the novelette by Vox Day nominated in a previous year, and they appear to be along the same lines. A lot of talk—I mean, a lot of talk—and what little action there is usually takes place offstage and is related rather than depicted.

I.e., not at all the sort of stories the Sad Puppies claim to be championing.

So I now have to pose the question to Torgersen and the Sad Puppies—if you were bound and determined to nominate a literary fiction author for a Hugo Award, even while insisting you were doing the opposite, then why did you pick a flyweight like John C. Wright when you could have nominated something by Gene Wolfe? Who is a genuine giant in our field—and who has never won a Hugo award.

Granted, you couldn’t have done it this year because Gene Wolfe didn’t write anything that would have qualified. But you could have done it the previous year, because he published several qualifying stories including a novel—and any of the years before that in which you’ve advanced a slate.

But you chose instead to champion Vox Day and John C. Wright, neither of whom could reach up high enough to shine Gene Wolfe’s shoes. And, to make things still worse, have spouted such opinions as that:

Throwing acid in women’s faces is a small price to pay for stable marriages. (Vox Day)

[Here’s the actual quote: “a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages, stable families, legitimate children, low levels of debt, strong currencies, affordable housing, homogenous populations, low levels of crime, and demographic stability.” http://voxday.blogspot.ca/2012/06/scientist-beats-up-pz.html]

The instinctive reaction of men to homosexuals is to beat them to death. (John C. Wright).

[Here’s the actual quote: “In any case, I have never heard of a group of women descended on a lesbian couple and beating them to death with axhandles and tire-irons, but that is the instinctive reaction of men towards fags.” http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2015/04/john-c-wright-tries-to-cover-up-that-hes-a-wannabe-gay-basher.html]

I have the privilege of knowing Gene Wolfe and counting him a friend. I don’t know Gene’s opinions on same-sex marriage, because we’ve never discussed the issue. But I’m pretty sure he’s opposed to it for the same reasons many conservatives and Catholics are opposed. What I am absolutely certain of is that no one ever has or ever will hear Gene Wolfe express the sort of attitudes about other human beings that spill from the mouths of Theodore Beale and John C. Wright like sewage out of a drain pipe.

So if your purpose—as Larry Correia has stated publicly—was to demonstrate the liberal perfidy of Hugo voters and their blind prejudice toward conservatives, why did you nominate Vox Day and John C. Wright instead of Gene Wolfe? Or, for that matter, Mike Resnick—who had seven qualifying stories in 2013 and four in 2014?

The answer is obvious. Gene Wolfe might not have won the award—he’s been nominated twice but never won—and Mike Resnick might not have won again. But there would have been no opposition to either nomination on political grounds. We don’t have to guess about this. While Gene has never won a Hugo award he’s been showered by Nebula nominations—twenty in all—and he’s won the Nebula twice. Resnick has been nominated for a Nebula eleven times and won once.

Keep in mind that the Nebula awards are handed out by SFWA, an organization of professional authors—that is to say, by the very source and font of all Liberal Wickedness, according to Brad Torgersen. And yet SFWA has never hesitated to applaud two of science fiction’s prominent authors despite their political conservatism and, in the case of Wolfe, his Catholicism. (Resnick is an atheist.)

Torgersen and Larry Correia are being disingenuous. In order to get the sort of political opposition they wanted to “prove” their contention that the awards are politically biased, they had to go out of their way to nominate two authors whose political views are so toxic they were bound to trigger off a furious reaction. By analogy, this is like someone who insists on including paintings by Adolf Hitler in an art exhibit in order to “prove” that his critics are politically biased when they object—biased against the exhibitor’s politics, mind you, not Hitler’s.

I can speak for myself. I am not biased against authors whose political views I disagree with. Hell, I co-author novels and stories with the same writers I’ll turn around the next day and argue politics with. To name two, David Weber and Mike Resnick. To name a third, Dave Freer, who has been supporting the Sad Puppies in the current ruckus. And while I’ve never co-authored anything with Gene Wolfe and don’t expect I ever will, I hope to see him again at Windycon later this year and have dinner with him, as we do whenever we meet each other.

Outside of science fiction, some of my favorite authors are Fyodor Dostoyevsky and William Faulkner, neither of whom—especially Dostoyevsky—had political views I agree with. This is hardly an unusual stance for socialists, by the way. Karl Marx’s favorite author was Honoré de Balzac, who was a conservative royalist.

But neither Dostoyevsky nor Balzac advocated—as Theodore Beale (“Vox Day”) does—that my daughter should be shot in the head because she’s a schoolteacher and my wife should have acid thrown in her face. (Yes, I know Beale insists he doesn’t “advocate” such things. He simply calls them “rational” when the Taliban or someone else does it. All that demonstrates is that he’s a liar on top of everything else.) Nor did they ever advocate the extermination of people whose politics or religion offended them by equating them with insects, as John C. Wright has done. (Here’s the quote from him: “I have no hatred in my heart for any man’s politics, policies, or faith, any more than I have hatred for termites; but once they start undermining my house where I live, it is time to exterminate them.”)

If Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia can’t understand the difference, that’s their problem, not mine.

If they wanted to challenge what they perceive as the liberal orthodoxy that has a stranglehold over science fiction’s major awards, they could have nominated works by such conservative authors as Gene Wolfe or Mike Resnick. Instead, they deliberately chose vicious, sadistic flyweights like Theodore Beale and John C. Wright. Both of whom are literary authors, to boot, not the sort of appeal-to-the-mass-audience writers the Sad Puppies claim to be championing.

 

All right, enough on that. Moving on to the longest portion of Torgersen’s post, we encounter many paragraphs of denunciation:

“The opponents of Sad Puppies 3 — some of whom I would be tempted to call puppy-kickers — have threatened, demanded, and badgered a great deal. This wasn’t a life-or-death bloodsport until the progressive guardians of the field decided that Sad Puppies 3 was justification for open war. They happily became (and in most instances, remain) puppy-kickers. And they are proud of themselves for it, too.

“I guess inviting more people to the table is the most horrible thing in the SF/F world?

“Because that’s what happened: Sad Puppies 3 invited more people to the table, not less. We wanted to make the tent bigger.

“The puppy-kickers have busied themselves trying to find ways to evict people from the tent. For ideological infractions. For taste infractions. For insufficient “fan cred” as defined by the denizens of Worldcon — some of whom are obsessed with keeping Fandom a capital-f affair, for capital-f people only.

“Sad Puppies 3 wanted to push back against blind spots, and get recognition for new and established authors alike.

“The puppy-kickers used that as an excuse to scream “NO AWARD!”, while at the same time threatening careers, using lies and character assassination against myself and Larry Correia in particular, and to also try to cajole deserving people to withdraw from the ballot.

“Remind me, again, who “loves” Science Fiction & Fantasy? Who pissed in the cornflakes, to borrow one user’s analogy?”

 

Once again, we see what has become the Sad Puppies’ standard operating procedure—long-winded denunciation of usually-nameless villains who have supposedly done them wrong.

Before I go any further, I need to make something clear. That there have been wrongs done to the Sad Puppies is unquestionable. Leaving aside the criticism I just made recently of Irene Gallo’s comments, a number of the characterizations made of the Sad Puppies in posts scattered all over the internet have ranged from stupid and ignorant to downright sleazy and scurrilous. To make things worse, some of these ignorant/stupid/sleazy/scurrilous statements have to some degree bled into the mass media.

But fair’s fair—or, I should say, unfair is unfair, since plenty of the Sad Puppies’ ignorant/stupid/sleazy/scurrilous statements—and if you don’t think they haven’t made plenty of them, stick around—have bled into the right-wing mass media as well. Consider, for instance, this gem of journalistic distortion on Breitbart: http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/02/05/the-hugo-wars-how-sci-fis-most-prestigious-awards-became-a-political-battleground/)

I’m going to dissect the article in Breitbart at some length, for two reasons. The first is because I don’t want to be accused of doing what I accuse the Sad Puppies of doing, which is to cite people who are obscure and have no influence (on the rare occasions when they cite anyone at all). Breitbart is a major outlet in right-wing media and has enough influence to have gotten USDA official Shirley Sherrod fired by lying about her, to have played a major role in destroying the community organization ACORN by lying about them, and to have temporarily impeded the confirmation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel by lying about him.

(If you want the details concerning Breitbart’s inveterate dishonesty, they’re not hard to find. Use the magic word: Google.)

In short, Breitbart is a WAY, WAY more influential force than someone like Irene Gallo.

The second reason I want to concentrate on the Breitbart article is because of its one and only virtue: unlike the normal practice of the Sad Puppies, Breitbart actually name names. Hallelujah.

After an opening two paragraphs in which Breitbart trots out the standard right-wing whine that the nation is being over-run by social justice warriors, they move on to discuss how this blight has now affected science fiction. They begin as follows:

“The story begins, as ever, with a small group of social justice-minded community elites who sought to establish themselves as the arbiters of social mores. This group would decide who deserved a presence in SFF and who deserved to be ostracised.

“Their victims are littered across the SFF community. In 2013, the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) were targeted by a shirtstorm-like cyber-mob of digital puritans after one of their cover editions was deemed to be “too sexual.” The controversy did not die down until two of its most respected writers, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzburg, were dismissed from the publication. This occurred despite a vigorous counter-campaign by liberal members of the sci-fi community, including twelve Nebula award winners and three former presidents of the SFWA.

“Unfortunately, the current crop of elite figures in the SFF community have become either apologists or out-and-out cheerleaders for intolerance and censorship. Redshirts author John Scalzi, a close friend of anti-anonymity crusader Wil Wheaton – was head of the SFWA at the time of the controversy and quickly caved in to activist pressure. This was unsurprising, given that he shared many of their identitarian views.”

[Nota bene: all the spelling errors are theirs, not mine. EF]

First, notice the standard method also used by the Sad Puppies—to make sweeping generalizations based on… a tiny number of cases.

The sweeping generalization is this: “Their victims are littered across the SFF community.”

Jeepers! Images of the slain and mutilated careers of dozens of conservative authors spring to mind. Unfortunately for the premise, however, there is only one specific case cited, involving only two authors. And the damage actually done to anyone doesn’t begin to match Breitbart’s hyperbole. But this should come as no surprise since it’s the method Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia and the Sad Puppies have been using all along. Wild charges, sweeping generalizations, based on…

Not much of anything, if anything at all.

What happened in the not-so-notorious case of Resnick and Malzberg [please note my correct spelling of Barry’s name: EF] vs. SFWA’s Bulletin? In a nutshell, two authors made some comments in the course of a discussion printed in the Bulletin to which a number of other members of SFWA objected. Resnick and Malzberg then took exception to the objections, a wrangle erupted, at the end of which the people in charge of SFWA and its Bulletin decide the best course of action for the organization’s self-interest was to fire Resnick and Malzberg. (More precisely, since neither of them was an employee of SFWA, they discontinued the column that Resnick and Malzberg had maintained for some time.)

In short, following the standard practices of organizations and companies in a capitalist society, enshrined by law, they severed business relations with people whom they’d found to be an impediment to their well-being. When applied to employees, it’s called “at-will employment” and it’s something that every right-winger in America vehemently supports—until they get caught in the grinder. Then, all of a sudden, they discover “principles” that don’t exist.

Not being employees but what amounted to free-lance contractors, Resnick and Malzberg had no legal basis to object at all. Any more than Phil Robertson had a legal basis to object when A&E suspended him from Duck Dynasty because of his controversial public remarks on race and sexual orientation.

The American right wing blew their stack over that issue also. Apparently they believe there’s a constitutional right to have your own reality TV show. And now, it seems, a constitutional right to maintain a column in a magazine owned by someone else.

Uh, no, there isn’t. Why does a Bolshevik like me have to keep explaining the ABCs of capitalism to people who claim to love and adore that economic system?

But let’s leave aside the legalities. Did Resnick and Malzberg suffer any significant damage to their careers as a result of what Breitbart calls “a shirtstorm-like cyber-mob of digital puritans”?

(If you’re wondering what a “shirtstorm” is, so am I. Probably a clumsy attempt to meld “storm troopers” and “shit storm.” Happily for them, Breitbart’s writers don’t have to make a living based on their prose, just their bullshit.)

I haven’t had any contact with Barry Malzberg for a while, so I can’t say in his case. I do have regular contact with Mike Resnick, since we’re co-authoring a novel at the moment. And while Mike was certainly pissed off by the whole thing—everybody has a constitutional right to get pissed off, you betcha—he never said anything to me indicating he thought he’d suffered any significant damage to his career. The truth is, he’s one hell of a lot tougher than Breitbart gives him credit for. So is Barry.

Part of what I find so annoying about the Sad Puppies and those who support them or publicize them is what I will politely call their “inflation” of actual harm done and damages suffered. As I spelled out in an earlier essay, my own definition of “political persecution” has a hell of a lot higher bar than theirs does. I think in terms of people trying to run me over with pickup trucks and beating me with baseball bats, not being rude to me on a panel discussion at a science fiction convention or discontinuing a column that doesn’t pay all that well anyway.

Note something else as well. I will give Breitbart credit for one thing: They did at least mention that the discontinuation of Resnick and Malzberg’s column generated “a vigorous counter-campaign by liberal members of the sci-fi community, including twelve Nebula award winners and three former presidents of the SFWA.”

The problem here is that Breitbart, like the Sad Puppies they are championing, is trying to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, they point to the defeat of the “vigorous counter-campaign” as further proof of the tyrannical power in the science fiction community of “a small group of social justice-minded community elites.”

But by what means did these small groups come to wield such power in the SFF community? Well—according to Torgersen—because they are not small groups at all but “make up the vast bulk of editors, authors, artists, and publishers” who have, aided and abetted by like-minded fans, turned the field of science fiction and fantasy into “a thoroughly progressive playhouse.”

But if that’s the case, where did this “vigorous counter-campaign” of liberals—which included twelve Nebula award winners and three former SFWA presidents—come from?

To call this argument a muddle is to insult muddles. It’s a mishmash of contradictory statements none of which make much sense on its own terms and which become downright hallucinatory when they are combined.

All right. I’ll skip over the paragraph that denounces Scalzi for being a lapdog to identitarians—whatever the hell that silly word means—and a friend of Wil Wheaton’s, gasp!—except to take note of the term itself. What is it about right-wingers, anyway? They keep accusing everyone else of being victim-mongerers obsessed with identity politics but they’re the ones who prattle endlessly about their supposed persecution [“victims are littered across the SFF community”] and nobody generates identity-labels like they do. Start with the term “identitarians” itself—did I mention the clumsy prose?—and move on to “social justice warriors,” “SJWs,” “CHORFs”, oh, it goes on and on.

Those lousy social justice warrior identitarian cliquist holier-than-thou obnoxious reactionary liberal fanatics keep trying to reduce people to categories…

Ah…yeah. Right.

But let’s move on to the next paragraph, which seems to have some meat on it. At first glance, anyway.

“But Scalzi is, if anything, merely the moderate ally of a far more radical group of community elites. He hasn’t gone nearly as far as former SFWA Vice President Mary Kowal, who handles political disagreement by telling her opponents to “shut the fuck up” and quit the SFWA. Or former Hugo nominee Nora Jemisin, who says that political tolerance “disturbs” her. Or, indeed, the prolific fantasy author Jim C. Hines, who believes that people who satirize religion and political ideologies (a very particular religion, and a very particular ideology, of course) should be thrown out of mainstream SFF magazines.”

Notice, first, the usual absence of details. Oh, those pesky, pestiferous details—such as “where, when, why and to whom?”

First, we are told that former SFWA vice-president Kowal handles political disagreement by telling her opponents to “shut the fuck up” and leave SFWA. As it happens, I ran across Kowal at the recent Nebula Awards and asked her for her side of the charge. Mary told me that she did indeed tell some people to “shut the fuck up” but it had nothing to do with “political opposition” unless you define the term so broadly as to be meaningless. What happened, according to her, was that a small number of SFWA members were behaving abusively toward her when she was secretary of the organization and she finally got fed up and told them to shut the fuck up.

Which version of the story is correct? I can’t vouch for it either way, personally. What I do know is that Breitbart’s track record for honesty stinks to high heaven, so I figure that Kowal’s version is the accurate one. But for the sake of argument let’s give Breitbart the benefit of the doubt and assume that she is, indeed, a veritable Harpy of the Left.

Moving on to the charge Breitbart makes against Jemisin, we find the same pattern. Breitbart gives no indication as to when, where, to whom and in what context Jemisin supposedly made her statement that political tolerance “disturbs” her—that is to say, those pesky pestiferous details that always seem to elude the Sad Puppies and their allies in the media.

I’d particularly like to know those details in this case, because the characterization of Jemisin’s supposed remark positively reeks of “taken wildly out of context”—which is Breitbart’s well-known stock in trade.

Where did Jemisin say it? When did she say it? To whom did she say it? In what context did she say it?

You will search in vain for the answers.

Things pick up with the third example, however, for Breitbart does provide a link to the statement by Jim Hines which they summarize as his belief “that people who satirize religion and political ideologies (a very particular religion, and a very particular ideology, of course) should be thrown out of mainstream SFF magazines.”

That is a preposterous interpretation of what Hines actually said. You don’t have to take my word for it, read it yourself:

Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers

But let’s leave aside the fact that Breitbart either grossly distorts what people actually say or makes obviously paraphrased or taken-out-of-context accusations without providing any citations. Let us assume for a moment that every single charge they level in this paragraph is completely accurate in every jot and tittle.

SO FUCKING WHAT?

This is just absurd. We are told that a former vice-president of SWFA told people to shut the fuck up or leave SFWA when, even in the days when she was the organization’s vice-president she had no power to enforce either demand. (And wouldn’t even if she’d been the president instead of the vice-president.)

So what difference does it make what she said?

We are told that N.K. Jemisin is “disturbed” by political tolerance. If so, why should anyone care? What power does she have to enforce her distaste for political tolerance?

Answer: zero.

As for Jim Hines’ supposed demand that offenders of his dictates be thrown out of mainstream SFF magazines, he is neither the publisher nor the editor of any mainstream SFF magazine. So who cares what he does or does not “demand”? How is he in any position to enforce his so-called demand?

In the next paragraph in the article, Breitbart makes an attempt to explain the undue influence of “a small group of social justice-minded community elites.” Here it is:

“Most of these people are small fry compared to the true big beasts of the SFF world, like Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, or J.K. Rowling. But through a mix of obsessive politicking in institutions like the SFWA and the familiar whipping up of social-justice outrage mobs online, they have been able to exert disproportionate influence.”

Oh, boy. Like I said, calling this a muddle is to insult muddles.

Let’s start with this strand in the tangle: “But through a mix of obsessive politicking in institutions like the SFWA…”

First, note the ever-present inflation and sweeping generalization: “…in institutions like the SFWA.”

What other institutions “like the SFWA” are you talking about? There is only one writers’ organization in the field of fantasy and science fiction, which is SFWA itself. You can stretch that to two if you include the Horror Writers Association.

Between them, they have less than three thousand members. The “power” they exert over the careers of writers barely reaches the level of “minimal.” Plenty of successful authors do not belong to either organization without suffering any harm to their careers whatsoever. So how and in what way does “obsessive politicking” in SFWA matter to anybody except the people in SFWA engaging in it? It doesn’t matter who wins, because regardless of who it is they can’t exert any significant influence over writers as a whole.

And they can’t exert any at all over the fans—who are the ones who vote on the Hugo awards.

Ah, but it seems the (laughable) power of the “institutions like the SFWA” exerts itself through “the familiar whipping up of social-justice outrage mobs online.”

Which is just as laughable. I say this as someone who has been the victim of a real mob. Trust me, the difference between a flesh-and-blood mob and a virtual one is enormous. It’s the difference between a club and an electron.

I sneer at the electron. Besides which, it only takes a few dozen people to form a real mob, but it takes a hell of a lot more to form an online mob.

Not to mention that nothing stops right-wingers from forming their own online mobs—which they do, quite readily.

Oh, wait—I forget the double standard. When progressives gather on a web site to shriek their social-justice outrage, they are a “mob.” When right-wingers gather on a web site to denounce social-justice outrage, they are having a “discussion.”

Ah…yeah. Right.

Finally, we come to Breitbart’s concluding paragraph:

“Today, no one is safe. Right-wingers like Theodore Beale face ostracization over accusations of racism (Beale is himself Native American), while even progressives or independent authors like Bryan Thomas Schmidt are denounced as “cultural appropriators”; in Schmidt’s case, because he prepared an anthology of nonwestern sci-fi stories. Peak absurdity was achieved in 2014 when Jonathan Ross was forced to cancel his appearance at the Hugo Awards after the SJWs of SFF whipped themselves into a panic-fuelled rage over fears that Ross might – might! – make a fat joke. Even the New Statesman, which sometimes reads like an extension of Tumblr, came out and condemned the “self-appointed gatekeepers” of SFF.”

We begin with a portentous statement of doom: Today, no one is safe.

Wow! But, ah…. safe from what, exactly?

A bullet in the back of the head in the virtual cellars of a virtual Lubyanka?

Ah, no. If you go back to the title of the article (“The Hugo Wars: How Sci-fi’s Most Prestigious Awards Became a Political Battleground”) you will be startled to recall that we’re actually talking about the Hugo award.

So, we need to translate Breitbartese into English:

Today, no one is safe from not getting a Hugo award.

Not… quite as dramatic, is it? Especially when you consider that since the first Hugo awards were given out in 1953 the overwhelming majority of science fiction and fantasy writers have never been safe from not getting a Hugo award. We have always been at great and terrible risk of not getting an award.

Yet, somehow, we survived the ordeal. There is not one recorded instance of an author keeling over because they didn’t get a Hugo. (Getting drunk, yes; dropping dead, no.)

Breitbart then—gee, what a surprise—glosses over the nature of Theodore Beale. He is “accused” of racism, it seems. This is like saying that Heinrich Himmler is “accused” of anti-Semitism. Uh, no. Heinrich Himmler was an anti-Semite and Theodore Beale is a racist.

Breitbart also provides us with the information that Beale is a Native American, in a transparent attempt to further gloss over Beale’s racism. Assuming it’s true—which I don’t, since it’s based on a statement by Beale himself, who lies about lots of things—so what? One of the most vicious racists in American history was Stand Watie, the slave-owning Cherokee who served as a general in the Confederate army and who ordered his troops to murder any black soldiers they captured.

This all culminates with the supposedly great crime at the 2014 Worldcon, where Jonathan Ross was “forced” to cancel his appearance by the SJWs.

Oh, those blood-drenched acronyms! Just like Tamerlane, they leave pyramids of skulls behind them.

Well. Sorta. In a really really virtual sorta way, if you know what I mean.

In point of fact, Ross was not “forced” to cancel his appearance. He chose to do so after seeing the ruckus on Twitter by some people planning to attend the London Worldcon. The behavior of those people was publicly criticized by Neil Gaiman and plenty of others in the F&SF community.

 

Breitbart is unusual, however, in providing any names at all. The much more common practice of the Sad Puppies is the method used by Brad Torgersen in the long diatribe I quoted earlier. Except for James May, you will hardly ever see the Sad Puppies name names and provide examples of their charges and claims. The accusations are almost always vague when it comes to specific identities. The villains all wear black hats with such broad brims that you can never discern any actual features. They are faceless, nameless, unknown.

(I should mention one other possible exception, who is Dave Freer. I say “possible” because it’s not clear to me if Dave really supports the Sad Puppies or if he’s just irritated by their opponents. Dave Freer is to “contrarian” what water is to “wet.” Whatever the case might be, he does not hesitate to name names. But Freer is not at the center of this debate so I’ll ignore him hereafter unless that changes. Full disclosure: Dave Freer is a good friend of mine and someone with whom I’ve co-authored almost a dozen novels, with at least two more coming.)

The reason the Sad Puppies avoid naming names is because of the problem they immediately run into when, as James May does, they do start identifying individual villains. In a nutshell, as villains go, these black hats are…

Well. Pretty pathetic.

I mean, give me a break. James May winds up having to dig around so deeply in the bottom of a (mostly empty) barrel that as one example of the presumed puppy-kickers he cites an individual simply because he submitted a term paper for an undergraduate English Literature course at a university in Sweden whose title sounded suspiciously…

You know. Suspicious.

The title was “Androgyny and the Uncanny in Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.”

Ooooooo…! You can practically hear the poor puppy’s ribcage being crushed under the literary jackboot…

I read the first part of the paper, by the way. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Hugo controversy. It’s simply the sort of hyper-intellectualized analysis of two novels that any undergraduate will write to get a good grade in a literature course. (There’s a reason I majored in history instead of English Lit.)

But this is the method Torgersen uses himself—and has from the beginning. He points to—refers to, rather; it’s always a wave of the hand rather than a pointing finger—incidents at least some which are genuinely outrageous in terms of unfair and sometimes scurrilous charges being leveled against him or other Sad Puppies. And then, by leaving the details and specifics unclear, tries to inflate the incidents into the literary equivalent of the Albigensian Crusade.

So, any insignificant nitwit spouting insults on a panel at an SF convention becomes the equivalent of being blackballed by publishers. Any lout spewing venom in a discussion anywhere on the internet becomes a Secret Master of Hugodom, even though nobody’s ever heard of him except his (few) friends and family. Any troll with a blog that has a very modest number of readers is transmuted into the She-Devil of Political Correctness.

As time goes by, talking to each other in their echo chamber, Torgersen and his supporters have persuaded themselves that this (not so very large) pack of trolls, jerks and assholes are science fiction’s equivalent of the iron fist of the KGB dragging poor helpless little puppies into the bowels of Lubyanka Prison, there to be silenced by bullets in the back of their heads.

What makes this even more ridiculous—not to mention annoying—is that while the Sad Puppies have indeed been the victims of excessive belligerence and vituperation, they are just as guilty themselves.

Consider this gem of hyperbole, spouted by Brad Torgersen:

“Nielsen-Haydens, your fellow travelers, and media goombahs . . . I MOCK YOU! I MOCK YOUR ASININE INCESTUOUS CLUSTERFUCKED LITTLE CULTURE OF DOCTRINAIRE PROGRESSOSEXUAL MEDIOCRITY MASKED AS SUPERIORITY! You are all dolts. You are moral and physical cowards. You are without ethics, without scruples, and if you weren’t so patently pathetic, I’d say you might be dangerous.

Fuck you. Fuck you all. The forces of the progressive pink and poofy Xerxes were met at the Hugo Hot Gates, and repelled by a few brave dudes and dudettes with the stones to stand up to your bullshit.”

[http://madgeniusclub.com/2015/04/13/nostradumbass-and-madame-bugblatterfatski/]

Anybody who posts something like this online has no business complaining about the rhetoric of other people.

What this debate has basically come down to is the Sad Puppies defending their frequently irresponsible and sometimes outrageous conduct by insisting “they did it first!” And, often enough, their opponents yell back the same thing.

He cheated first! No, she did! He was mean to me! She was meaner! He lied! Maybe I did but she lied first and worst!

Who is right and who is wrong? Who did or did not instigate the brawl?

I DON’T CARE. This crap belongs in a playpen.

Leaving that aside, can we pause for a reality check? Being insulted and denigrated only constitutes “persecution” if the people doing the insulting and denigrating are in position to enforce their opinions. That general truth is only amplified when the insults and denigrations are mostly virtual. Or is there anyone still alive who doesn’t know that an accurate map of the internet would have THERE BE TROLLS plastered all over?

I could post a statement online that “Apple pie tastes good” and within a week there would be counter-posts accusing me of being a stooge for Marie Callender and Sara Lee, an ignoramus on the subject of gluten and its dangers, an outright apologist for gluten and its malevolent evil, a dolt who doesn’t understand that blueberry pie is way better than apple pie, an advocate of patriarchy trying to smuggle my message under the guise of plaudits for a type of pie when what I really want is to force all women back into the kitchen baking pies, a pewling lackey for women selling out his masculine birthright for a piece of pie instead of hunting wild boar with a spear in a manly manner, a cultural chauvinist trying to impose his culinary preferences on the world’s population, most of whom don’t eat apples in any form, on and on and on…

And…

So fucking what? None of this counts as “persecution” unless the jerks posting the stuff are in position to deny me access to apple pie. Which—to put it mildly—they are not.

So what this all really comes down to is the implication that even though the “puppy-kickers” don’t have much if any real power, the purportedly deafening noise they’re making online is overwhelming the critical senses of people who will be voting on the Hugo awards. Whether that’s true or not can be debated, mind you. Personally, I doubt if most of the people who will be voting on the Hugos are paying that much attention to all this. People who participate in online wrangles invariably over-estimate the extent to which The Rest Of The World is paying the slightest bit of attention to them. But even if it is true, I come back to my sad (couldn’t resist) refrain:

So fucking what? By Torgersen’s own analysis, most of those Hugo-voters already belong to the “thoroughly progressive playhouse” anyway, so they’re naturally inclined to think the worst of Sad Puppiedom even if there were complete silence on the internet.

Finally, let’s get down to the most basic reality check of all. We are not debating the fate of the universe here. Nobody is doing the literary equivalent of storming ashore at Omaha Beach or—whatever Brad Torgersen’s delusions—making a desperate last stand at Thermopylae. The fate of western civilization is not hanging in the balance—or, for that matter, the fate of the most run-down roadhouse in the most desolate stretch of the loneliest highway in the least populated area of North America, whose one (drunken) customer is arguing with the (dimwitted) bartender over whether Star Wars is better than Star Trek.

No, what’s actually at stake here is who gets (or doesn’t get) a Hugo Award.

Thazzit. An award that is voted on by less than one-tenth of one percent of all the people in the United States who regularly read science fiction and fantasy—most of whom, although they are often aware of the Hugo, pay very little if any attention to it.

My point here is not to denigrate the Hugo. It’s simply to recognize it for what it is—and isn’t. The Hugo is the most prestigious award handed out by what is usually called “SF fandom.” Not even that, actually, because most members of SF fandom only attend local and regional conventions, not the Worldcon, and don’t vote on the Hugo awards. So it’s really only a subset of fandom, albeit one that’s very blurry at the edges.

The mistake people often make—Torgersen and the Sad Puppies are certainly making it—is to confuse that specific subset of people who read fantasy and science fiction with the readership as a whole. More precisely, to assume that the tastes and opinions of that (relatively quite small) subset of readers is an accurate sample of the tastes and opinions of the general audience.

But it’s not—any more than the subset of readers who generally prefer military SF, or epic fantasy, or urban fantasy, or paranormal romance, or alternate history, or hard SF, or space opera, or any other of the many branches of our genre (so-called “genre,” rather, but that’s a subject for another day) are necessarily an accurate sampling of the whole audience.

An author can spend his or her entire career—long, successful career—working in branches of fantasy and science fiction that generally get short shrift among that subset of readers who vote on Hugo Awards. Just as a different author can become a darling of the Hugo-voting subset of readers while remaining very obscure to the vast majority of the F&SF audience.

Which of them is “better”? The question isn’t completely meaningless. The problem is that there is only one objective answer to it: Which one of them—if either—is still being read by anyone except graduate students looking for a dissertation topic a century after they died?

Alas, it’s an answer that no one will ever know during their lifetime.

So it goes. This is the reason I don’t lose any sleep over awards. I don’t go to bed at night filled with bitterness because I haven’t won any awards—even been nominated, for that matter—and I don’t wake up in the morning with a new hope springing up in my heart that maybe… maybe…

The truth is, I simply don’t give a damn. If someday I should happen to win an award, great. I enjoy being applauded as much as any normal human being does. But winning or losing awards is not why I became a writer in the first place, it’s not something I think about except on rare occasions—and then, usually as idle curiosity (“I wonder who’s up for a Hugo this year? Anybody I know?”)—it’s not something that defines my self-worth even as a writer, much less as a person, and it’s not something that will determine whether or not people are still reading my work a hundred years after I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Do Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia really disagree with me about this? I doubt if they do, actually. So why do they let themselves get so worked up about it? Why don’t they—along with any and all of the Sad Puppies—simply shrug their shoulders, dismiss the Hugo Award as something only of interest to pea-brained liberal twits, and go on their way.

If they really, really still want an award, nothing stops them from creating their own. Call it the…

Well, whatever strikes their fancy. If it was me, I’d call it the Morlock Award. Yeah, sure, the snotty holier-than-thou effete Eloi think the Morlocks are a bunch of lowbrow troglodytes, but guess who winds up eating who…?

 

Okay, that’s it for now. In a day or two, I’ll make a final post in which I will make some practical suggestions and recommendations for how the Hugo awards might be improved.

 

(for the other posts on the Hugo controversy, visit the Hugo Controversy category.)