For benefit of readers who don’t follow science fiction and fantasy news, the Sad Puppies are the perplexing self-declared villains of the day. This is the kind of story that moves people who don’t write fiction to say things like, “You couldn’t make this stuff up.” Actually, I could, and stuff even weirder, but I will concede, the parts that nobody had to make up are remarkable enough.
Here’s a short version: Two smallish factions of politically and socially conservative readers calling themselves the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies gamed the nomination process for the most prestigious awards in SF/F because — I am not making this up, and some of their other reasons are even further out there — they were angry at seeing too many awards go to works by women and people of color.
There are other descriptions of the controversy, but suffice it to say, it’s an acrimonious mess. One of the most reasoned, open-minded discussions has been hosted by John O’Neill, who’s in the awkward position of seeing his magazine Black Gate nominated for a Hugo Award for the first time, through a process he regards as so tainted that he would vote for No Award against the site that’s been his labor of love for over a decade. That’s where I first found out about the Sad Puppies controversy, because I’ve been a columnist at Black Gate for ages. The comment threads there have been surprisingly civil for their participants’ range of political views. If this is an issue you’re curious about, or already care about, here are three posts well worth reading, with links leading to lots of other places where other parts of the wider conversation are going on.
But let’s back up for a moment to the names. What’s up with the puppies, anyway? Why puppies?
Apparently the first year one of these conservative guys tried to game the nomination process with a slate of candidates, “The original idea was to call it the ‘Sad Puppies Think of the Children Campaign’ – a dig at those who take their social crusades too seriously.” (Yes, that’s a link to Breitbart. The awards controversy has been covered by Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and the Guardian, too. The world beyond geekdom seems suddenly to care about an award decided by a total of under 6,000 voting members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Weird.) I haven’t yet managed to dig up the original post in which the Puppies named themselves, but I’m curious about whether they were experiencing a moment of self-awareness about their own crusade, or mocking that tendency in the people they regarded as their enemies.
Regardless of whether they have a sense of humor about themselves, I’ve been blessed with a sense of humor about myself, and I’ve decided on my course of action.
I’ll adopt a dog about it.
Well, not about it, of course. I’d been telling the kids we would do that soon, soon, but now I’ll commit to having the house ready by Labor Day Weekend. The Capital-S Capital-P Sad Puppies will go win or lose in the Hugo voting that weekend, and there will be drama that lots of other people feel like yelling about online. Meanwhile, my life will go happily on, and I’ll spend the day playing fetch with someone far more important to me than any of the folks with a nomination in the Best Short Story category.
Who has been harmed by this year’s Hugo Awards conflict? Well, some writers, editors, and artists who had worthy work eligible for nomination this year got locked out of contention, and that hurts their long-term career chances. People like John O’Neill and Matthew David Surridge, who did not ask to be nominated on the slate and did not see any of this coming, have had to do a lot of explaining about their principles and positions in a controversy they did nothing to stir up. The long-term integrity of the Hugo Awards has been compromised, and that’s something a lot of people care about for a wide variety of different reasons. I’m not in a position to help any of those people.
But what about the literal, actual puppies?
Because now every time I hear the words “sad puppies,” I’m not going to have warm, fuzzy thoughts about rescued dogs who need homes, like maybe mine. I’m going to think about Theo Beale, a.k.a. Vox Day, the most hated man in science fiction, who has argued in earnest that African-Americans are subhuman and that women should not be allowed to vote.
Seriously, when I read some of the things the people writing out of the Rabid Puppies faction say when they try to explain their reasoning, my first thought is, This is an insult to actual rabid puppies everywhere.
These guys have every right to call themselves Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Super Puppies, Blue Ribbon Puppies, or whatever they like. Fine.
Meanwhile, I commend to your attention Petfinder.com, in case there’s room in your life for an actual sad puppy, one who would rather take a walk with you and then spend half an hour gnawing on his squeaky toy than, say, hijack your community’s efforts to recognize excellence and then spend eternity bashing an imaginary conspiracy of so-called Social Justice Warriors.
You could name your puppy Hugo, or perhaps Norton or Campbell in recognition of the other luminaries whose names have been given to the major awards in our field. You could name your puppy after a worthy work or author whose work got closed out by the nomination shenanigans — or by the last few years of alleged “affirmative action awards,” if you believe that’s what happened. Hey, one area of common ground I’m willing to credit the Sad Puppies with is that affection for real flesh-and-blood dogs is probably equally distributed across the political spectrum.
Fortunately, dogs don’t care whom you vote for on your Hugo ballot, or whether your name appears on said ballot. As Aldous Huxley said, “To his dog, every man is Napoleon, hence the constant popularity of dogs.” My hypothetical dog will care far less than I do about the number of rejections my trunk manuscript has racked up.
So maybe sad puppies are the ultimate solution to the problem of Sad Puppies. As John Scalzi put it in his list of possible responses to the Hugo voter’s predicament, “I also think it’s okay to penalize graceless award grasping by people who clearly despise the Hugo and what they believe it represents, and yet so very desperately crave the legitimacy they believe the award will confer to them. Therapy is the answer there, not a literary award.”
Not up for therapy? Petfinder.com is still right here.