I’ve been traveling a lot for the past few weeks, so my ability to respond to comments made here is intermittent. One of the comments that was put up on my web site while I was gone lately 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. 

Before I can do that, however, something else has to be dealt with first. One of the main points I’ve been trying to make, partly in the hope that I can persuade the Sad Puppies to change their minds, is that while scurrilous attacks have been made on them those attacks have come from people who have no real power or influence in the science fiction and fantasy community.

Unfortunately, there’s a reliable old quip, variously attributed to Voltaire and Maréchal Villars: Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies. With the modification that I don’t consider the Sad Puppies to be “enemies” but simply opponents in the current wrangle over the Hugos, the quip has found a home again.

While I was attending SFWA’s Nebula Awards weekend, the following statement was made on her Facebook page by Irene Gallo in response to a question. (The question was “what are the Sad Puppies”?)

“There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

When it comes to sheer, breath-taking dishonesty and just plain silliness, this statement is far worse than any of the ones cited by James May which I dealt with in previous essay. (Most of which were either perfectly fine or, at worst, one-sided.) But what makes the statement noteworthy is that Irene Gallo is not simply a loudmouth on the internet with a tenuous grasp of political logic and apparently no grasp at all of common decency. She is also the Art Director for Tor/Forge Books, which is by far the largest publisher in F&SF. In short, someone who has a genuinely important and influential position in the field.

Before I address the comment itself, I need to make one thing absolutely clear. Whatever her position at Tor, Irene Gallo has the same right to free speech that any American citizen has (as well as the citizens of many other countries, of course). Still, rights are one thing—good judgment is something else again. And it’s her judgment that’s at issue here.

Let me start with the opening half of her first sentence:

“There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively…”

Words matter—something you’d expect any professional in publishing to understand, even if their specialty is art work. Calling someone “extreme right-wing” when you immediately tie that to “neo-nazi” is disingenuous at best. The transparently obvious purpose is to blend “extreme right-wing” with “neo-nazi” in the minds of the readers. The problem is that terms like “extreme” and “right-wing” are inherently vague and the one term in the sentence that is not vague—“neo-nazi”—is wildly inappropriate.

It’s not even appropriate applied to the Rabid Puppies. The two most prominent figures in that group are Theodore Beale (“Vox Day”) and the author John C. Wright. I have been severely critical of Wright and will continue to be, but I have seen no evidence that he either belongs to, is affiliated with, or even has any significant relations with any member of a neo-Nazi organization. The situation with Beale is perhaps murkier, because some of his statements certainly resonate with those made by neo-Nazis. But I have seen no concrete evidence in his case either that would support the charge of being a “neo-nazi.”

And applying the term to the Sad Puppies is simply slander, pure and simple. I have no objection to calling either Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia “right wing,” because they are—and say as much themselves. If you want to add the term “extreme” because it makes you feel better, so be it. For whatever it’s worth, coming from someone who has seen extreme right-wingers a lot more up-close and personally than I suspect Irene Gallo ever has, I think applying the adjective to either Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia is not accurate. If we can descend into the real world, for a moment, what both men are is political conservatives with a libertarian slant who are also devout Mormons. (I mention their religion simply because, as with most religious people, it does influence their political views at least to some degree.)

But leaving aside the issue of “extreme,” suggesting that either of them is a “neo-nazi” or anything remotely close is just disgusting. And don’t anyone bother protesting that Gallo didn’t actually make that charge directly since she did, after all, distinguish between “extreme right wing” and “neo-nazi.”

Yes, I know she did—with the clear intent of smearing the two together. This is the sort of rhetorical device that Theodore Beale loves to use also, when he insists he doesn’t “advocate” shooting girls in the head for wanting to get an education, he just points out that, empirically and scientifically speaking, it’s “rational” for the Taliban to do so.

I’m not guessing at Gallo’s intent, either, as will become blindingly obvious when we move on to her second sentence. But before I do so it’s necessary to address the last part of her first sentence, which is either as dishonest as the first part or is just silly, I’m not sure which:

“…that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy.”

Huh? The last time I looked, nobody except possibly Theodore Beale (and even with him you’d really have to squint) is calling for the end of social justice in F&SF. In one way or another, at least half of the stories written in our field—including ones by Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia—are stories in which the fight for social justice figures prominently. To be sure, people can disagree over what social justice really is and isn’t and the best way to achieve it. But who in hell is actually calling for social justice to end?

Once again, Gallo is employing sleazy rhetoric. The charge which can accurately be laid at the feet of the Sad Puppies is that they are calling for an end (or at least amelioration) of what they believe to be the dominating influence of what they call “social justice warriors” over who gets nominated for and wins the Hugo Award. But translating that into the statement that they are “calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy” is ridiculous. You could just as easily charge me with “calling for the end of straight white males” because I do in fact believe that straight white males have an undue amount of power and influence in our society.

Okay, enough on that. Now let’s move to the second sentence, which is the heart of her statement:

“They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic.”

This statement is not even true applied to the Rabid Puppies, although it certainly comes close, especially on the issues of sexism and homophobia. The problem is with the term “unrepentantly” which gives Theodore Beale more credit than he deserves. It would be more accurate to say “the Rabid Puppies are racist, sexist and homophobic even though they try to worm their way out of being blatant about it, especially when it comes to race.” (Where Beale likes to use William Buckley’s old tactic of insisting the problem isn’t an “inherent” defect in black people but simply the fact they haven’t been civilized long enough to have a culture equal to that of white people.)

But, never mind. This is a technicality. It is a simple fact that Beale and his supporters are vicious bigots and that’s as far as I’ll go in defending them.

The real issue is that, once again—and this time without any phony attempt to distinguish between the two—Irene Gallo has slandered the Sad Puppies by trying to make them identical with the Rabid Puppies.

In what sense can Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia or any person identified with the Sad Puppies be called racist, sexist and homophobic, much less “unrepentantly” so?

Words matter, damn it. If Irene Gallo has any citations that would substantiate her charges, let her make them public. And if she can’t—and I’ll make a prediction here: she can’t—then she needs to publicly retract the accusation and apologize to the people against whom she made it.

Period. There is nothing to discuss here. Put up or shut up.

And before Gallo or anyone else tries to get around this by arguing that what’s involved isn’t any blatant statement but the “inescapable and inherent logic” of the positions advanced by the Sad Puppies, I will remind you that you are dealing with a hard-bitten and very experienced old socialist who has had that same filthy tactic used against him for decades. I have been slandered as a “commie” since I was a teenager. (Even during years when I was actually a conservative in my political views on most subjects outside of civil rights.) And whenever I would challenge someone to back up their charges, they would always fall back on the same rhetorical tricks being used by Irene Gallo:

Guilt by association. Guilt by suggesting some “inner logic”—and never mind that the “inner logic” was directly contradicted by statements I made or actions I took. Blah blah blah. Trust me, I know every trick in this particular book. Call it the “Manual for Red-Baiting”—and the fact that this time around the same crap is being applied to people on the right doesn’t change its inherently squalid nature one damn bit.

Finally, there’s this last sentence:

“A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

I’ll leave aside the issue of whether Gallo can substantiate her claim that “Gamergate folks” are even involved in this debate, much less that they were “gathered” by people actively participating. I suspect she’s just shooting from the hip but at this point it’s a trivial issue. The really important business comes at the end:

“…a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

Again… huh? In what sense can any of the nominees for Best Novel be characterized as “bad-to-reprehensible”?

To remind everyone, the nominees are:

  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
  • The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)

I’ve read Skin Game and saw nothing “bad-to-reprehensible” in the book. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot, as I have the entire Dresden Files series. I haven’t yet read Ancillary Sword but I did read Ancillary Justice and I find it hard to believe there’s anything “bad-to-reprehensible” there either. I haven’t read this specific novel by Kevin Anderson but he’s a friend of mine and I’ve not only read quite a few of his novels but he and I just got a contract from Baen Books for a new fantasy series and if there was anything “bad-to-reprehensible” in either our (very long and detailed) proposal or any novel of his I’ve ever read, it passed me by entirely.

I haven’t read Goblin Emperor but it’s the next book I’m about to start reading, in part because it came highly recommended by a couple of friends neither of whom saw fit to mention anything “bad-to-reprehensible” in it. And if the charge is to be leveled against The Three Body Problem is it actually the book itself which is “bad-to-reprehensible” or just the translation?

It’s perfectly obvious that Irene Gallo is just shooting from the hip again. The nominees she’s really aiming at are presumably the stories published by Castalia House, except she’s not bothering to aim at all. She’s just blasting away in the same indiscriminate and irresponsible manner that infuses her entire statement.

I will add, by the way, that I have read one of the Castalia stories: “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright, which is one of the nominees for Best Short Story. I didn’t much care for the story, for reasons I’ll explain in a later post. But I saw nothing “bad-to-reprehensible” about it other than Wright’s penchant for fustian prose.

Once again, we see silliness melded with smearing. That is to say, the same sort of red-baiting-turned-backward tactic that Gallo has applied throughout.

Okay, enough. In later posts, I will go back to addressing the real issues involved in this debate. For now, I will end by speaking directly to Irene Gallo, if she’s reading this.

 

You screwed up. (It doesn’t matter what the reason was. I’m not a mind reader and neither is anyone else.) Retract the statement publicly and issue a simple and straightforward apology.

That’s it. If you do that, it’s over. If anyone tries to keep this issue going after that—yes, I know someone will, there are always assholes baying for someone else’s blood—then I will defend you just as vigorously as I’m now criticizing you.

Words matter. That includes retractions and apologies.

 

If anyone doesn’t understand why that’s true, I will do my best to explain it to you even though it ought to be obvious.

First of all, if you refuse to accept someone’s retraction and apology when they screw up, then you remove any incentive for anyone to ever do so. When faced with the alternatives of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t, almost everyone will keep doing it.

Secondly, you will introduce a strain of venom and rancor into the argument that you will regret sooner or later because it will almost certainly come back to bite you. As a rule, the only people who win debates fought with knives are undertakers.

 

I’m taking the time to deal with this for two reasons. The first and simplest is that people I know have been unfairly and unjustly accused and I will therefore defend them.

My other reason is more pragmatic. The debate/argument/brawl—call it whatever you will—that we are now having over the Hugo Awards is one that I would like to end. I’ve been mostly arguing against the Sad Puppies not out of animosity—several of them are friends of mine and none of them are people I dislike—but because I am trying to persuade them that their analysis of the situation is faulty and the course of action they’ve adopted is futile at best.

I will continue that debate. But I can’t possibly succeed in my goal, or even make any significant progress, if the people I’m arguing with are not only convinced that they’re being slandered but actually are being slandered. Under those circumstances, people stop listening to anyone except those already supporting them.

So do I. So do you. So does everyone.

So it needs to stop. On all sides.

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