The Hugos, Trump and How Not To Write An Argument

This article by Amanda Marcotte is actually from August, but in light of Trump’s victory, I thought I would address it. It is a perfect example of what aspiring journalists should not do if they want a successful career at a reputable publication.

The alt-right attacks sci-fi: How the Hugo Awards got hijacked by Trumpian-style culture warriors

It defies logic and sanity to claim that sci-fi was attacked for the last four years by members of an undefined group that didn’t exist until recently. Heck, it’s crazy to claim that an argument over an award by members of a very small organization is an attack on sci-fi. Sci-fi is bigger than the Hugo Awards.

Writer tip: Keywords in a title are essential, but be careful that your title is accurate and not just click-bait.

The fight over the Hugos reflects the larger cultural struggle that led to Trump — and the trolls aren’t winning

The first part is correct, the cultural struggle is similar. Thankfully, the second part is wrong – – the trolls ARE winning. 

Now, let’s take a look at Amanda’s argument.

For those who want to understand the social dynamics of the Donald Trump revolution — and why it is almost certain to fail — look no further than the ongoing kerfuffle over the Hugos, an annual set of awards for excellence in sci-fi and fantasy, which have been under attack by a bunch of embittered reactionaries.

News flash – Trump won so her prediction of failure is wrong, because it’s obvious this writer doesn’t understand the fight.

Embittered reactionaries? No. More like a bunch of pissed off people tired of being told for decades they aren’t real fans, that they are bigots, racists, misogynists, homophobes, and whatever derogatory flavor of the day is. They are tired of being excluded for simply having a different opinion about what constitutes “good” science fiction. They are tired of being scolded by the special snowflakes that melt at the slightest divergence from the approved groupthink.

This also appears to be the reason that Trump was elected President. People are sick of begin told to sit down and shut up. They are sick of a culture where anyone with a dissenting opinion is not only attacked, but they are destroyed. People are beginning to fight back and the status quo is upset about it. Those special snowflakes who clutch their pearls at any opinion they don’t agree with are foaming at the mouth because the “lesser” people are standing up and telling their “betters” to back off.

Since 1955, the Hugos have been awarded through a fairly straightforward process: Members of the World Science Fiction Convention nominate and then vote on their favorites in a variety of categories. Past winners have included luminaries like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Connie Willis, Robert Heinlein and George R.R. Martin.

And they continue to be awarded through the same process. Members nominate and then vote for winners. Nothing has changed, except that the “lesser” people are now speaking up rather than sitting down and shutting up as approved by the “betters” in WSFC. Recent winners have included anyone not nominated by either the Rabid Puppies nor the Sad Puppies, which takes into question the quality of the work that is given the award.

That all changed two years ago, when a group of conservative sci-fi fans and writers, believing that sci-fi had been taken over by “social justice warriors” who supposedly emphasize diversity and progressive themes over quality, revolted and set out to take over the Hugos so that the nominees and winners were whiter, more male, and more conservative.

Actually it was 4 years ago that the Sad Puppies started, hence Sad Puppies 4 in 2016. And while the motivation is partially correct, the goals are not. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the people nominated by the Sad Puppies over the past 4 years were a very diverse selection of authors. The Sad Puppies goal was for books to receive the award based on merit of the work rather than on the traits of the author. They wanted to break the status quo where only approved opinions received recognition. They also wanted to break the status quo where good stories were blackballed because the author didn’t fit the required diversity category or had an opinion that differed from the “betters”. 

The Rabid Puppies on the other hand, had a completely different goal than the Sad Puppies. Their goal is to destroy the Hugos. They want to burn it to the ground.

After the 2015 Hugo “asshole” awards, there were Sad Puppies that switch to being Rabid Puppies and others who walked away. Prior to the Puppies generating interest in the Hugos, World Con was dwindling in numbers and with people preferring cons like Dragon Con in Atlanta, the thought is that World Con will eventually die out.

In 2016, Dragon Con debuted their own award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, which allows any fan, not just members to vote for their favorite works.

Writing tip: When you’re going to write an article about something you know nothing about, research is key. Otherwise, it puts your whole article in question and it comes across that you’re…well, incompetent.

Two overlapping groups of conservatives — deeming themselves the Sad Puppies (more standard conservatives) and the Rabid Puppies (more alt-right and white supremacist) — began publishing suggested ballots, prior to the Hugo nominations, so that their people could vote for finalists as a bloc and crowd all other potential nominees off the ballot. Collectively, they are known as the Puppies, a choice which not coincidentally makes them sound cuter and sweeter than a nest full of reactionaries and outright bigots has any right to sound.

Yeah, about that. Just because they have the same enemy does not make them the same group. The groups really don’t overlap that much. They have distinct goals and different members. And see my previous comment about the derogatory comment of the day.

Writing Tip: Lumping groups that obviously have different members and different goals together is lazy reporting and weakens your argument. Setting out the differences between groups and countering each of their arguments separately not only strengthens your argument, it bolsters your credibility.  

It’s an effective strategy, because every other WorldCon member just nominates who they like, meaning that their votes are split up amongst hundreds of potential nominees. The strategy is reminiscent Trump’s path to the Republican nomination, which depended on running against a crowded field that divided opposition to him.

The Sad Puppies also nominated those books that they liked. This assumes that no one, but Sad Puppies and Rabid puppies voted for those that received the nomination and that all of the Puppies voted identically, which is obviously not true considering each group produced a different list of books. Furthermore, the nominated books received a differing number of votes as provided by World Con. 

While I thought that Trump was running simply to play interference for the real candidates, he won because he had more dedicated people who were willing to vote for him than the other candidates did. Not to mention the Democrats who crossed over to vote for him believing he would be the easiest candidate for Hillary to beat. As noted earlier, he won to the shock of just about everyone.

For the Puppies, this strategy effectively allowed them to block out the people who would be expected to be finalists any other year, and flood some categories with hacks and reactionaries who may not be great writers, but have politics more to their liking.

Ah, yes, those expected to be finalists. In other words, those people with the correct type of diversity and approved message. This attitude that no one, but people on the approved list get an opinion is exactly what pissed off the people who joined the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies to begin with. The Puppies did not block anyone from being on the list of finalists. They voted, just like every other paying member of World Con. The fact that their opinions carried weight is more attributable to the fact that very few World Con members participate in nominating books. Thousands of members don’t even bother to nominate or vote at all.

With a tiny amount of research on the author’s part, she would have noted that many of the authors on the list have divergent political and social views from those of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies who nominated them.

The same could be said about the Presidential election as well. A very small percentage of eligible voters participate in choosing the nominees for each party. Trump was able to get more people who sided with him to participate early on in the election. That does not mean he blocked anyone else from winning.

Writing tip: Use details to illustrate your statements. This not only will strengthen your argument, but also make you look less like your a sore loser.

“The Puppies, a lot of them — certainly their ringleaders — they’ve got a huge overlap with Gamergaters, men’s rights activists, that whole wing of the internet,” Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a sci-fi editor and writer explained to me over the phone.

(Wait…the internet has wings? I thought that was Always. Who knew?)

“They’ve concocted this scenario where everyone in science fiction is obsessed with them and trying to do them in because they’re conservative,” she added. By casting themselves as victims of this imaginary conspiracy, she argues, the Puppies rationalize their behavior as a form of self-defense.

It’s hard to refute such vague quantifies as “a lot” and “ringleaders”. There are no membership lists for the Sad Puppies nor for the Rabid Puppies and no one is checking to see if they are even members of World Con and qualified to nominate or vote. How many of the “a lot of them” are simply Puppy sympathizers or supporters and not actually part of the group. I certainly wasn’t a member of World Con until this year, but I certainly supported the goals of the Sad Puppies.

Writing tip: Use credible sources. An opponent with an obvious ulterior motive in having their enemy seen in a bad light is not a credible source on the makeup of the group your arguing against. It brings your integrity and professionalism into question.

The Hugo awards ceremony “only represents tiny, insular, politically motivated cliques taking turns giving their friends awards,” Larry Coreia, a ringleader of the Puppies, argued in 2015. Because of this supposed conspiracy — for which there continues to be no real evidence — he felt justified in helping organize an actual conspiracy of his tiny, insular, politically motivated clique to flood the ballot with conservatives.

As I stated earlier, the reason that the Puppy nominations were given weight is because very few World Con members bother to nominate works to begin with. It takes only a tiny number of people to sway the vote one way or the other. Which, by the way, is the exact thing Sad Puppies 4 was fighting against. The goal was to have a greater number of people nominating works they like, not less, as the status quo prefer. The goal is to have a greater diversity of works represented, not less, as the status quo prefer. 

So much so that the 2015 ballot drew heavily from one house, Castalia House, which is run by Theodore Beale, who also goes by the name Vox Day. Beale is a belligerent white supremacist who has recently been spotted going on a tirade against black female novelist N.K. Jemisin, who he deems an “ignorant half-savage” and sneering that only white men are capable of “building an advanced civilization.”

And as I pointed out earlier, there are two distinct groups. Lumping this group with the previous referred to group leaves off the fact that they have distinctly different members and goals. And, their tactics are entirely different.

The Sad Puppies have always encouraged people to nominate and vote for books that the individual World Con member likes. The Rabid Puppies on the other hand, vote as a group for the purpose of destroying the Hugos.

The takeover of the 2015 ballot so enraged normal sci-fi fans that they ended up voting “no award” in categories like Best Novella and Best Short Story where the only nominees were Puppy nominees.

All World Con members are “normal sci-fi fans”. Voting “no award” based on who nominated, rather than on the merits, belies the argument that “every other member nominates books they like.” Obviously, the nominee is of little importance compared to the politics of the voters, whom were mainly liberal. Only those nominees who were of the approved diversity and opinion were recognized. Funny how through all of this, Larry was proven right. That the Hugos had been taken over by Social Justice Warriors who take turns giving their friends (and political allies) awards. 

Correia claimed this was evidence that “voters cared far more about the author’s identity and politics than they did the quality of the work.” The likelier truth, however, is the opposite: The Puppy picks were hack works chosen on political grounds, and the voters rejected them because they sucked.

And you’re back to Correia. Again, two different groups with different goals. Taste in books is subjective, so it is a possibility, but highly unlikely since only the nominees by Puppies were “no awarded” it defies logic to conclude that they all “sucked.” A logical explanation is that voters “no awarded” nominees based on who nominated them and not the merits.

Writer tip: When drawing conclusions, have examples or details that support your conclusion. “Because I said so” is not sufficient support to lend to credibility.

Damien Walter of the Guardian took a bullet and read some of the Puppy-preferred works, deeming them mediocre at best and barely passable as fiction in other cases, especially with regards to the work of writer John C. Wright.

Sci-fi writer Naomi Kritzer concurred with Walter during an interview.

Just as the opinion from their mother regarding their writing is not a credible, neither are opinions of people who are obviously biased for one side or the other.

Writer tip: Understanding the basics of forming an argument and developing credibility will go a long way in getting assignments from reputable publications, unlike Salon, which is known for it’s junk journalism.

“Supposedly this is a campaign originally organized against ‘boring message fic‘ and yet one of the stories foisted onto the 2015 ballot was a John C. Wright novelette in which Saint Nicholas berates a grieving mother for her inadequate faith and then lectures her at length about theology,” Kritzer said.

“That’s the whole story: no plot, no action, no excitement, just literally boring message fic, but it’s a message of John C. Wright’s unique brand of Catholic orthodoxy, which I guess someone considered jolly good fun,” she added.

Opinion of quality is subjective. Obviously those who voted for it, thought it was worthy. Their opinion is just as valid as Ms. Kritzer’s opinion, assuming that she has a World Con membership that is.

It is telling that the Puppies simultaneously hold themselves out as the guardians of quality literature and as the protectors of “fun” fiction against the forces of pretentiousness. The contradiction goes unnoticed by the right, however, which pulls on whatever justification is most convenient for arguing that this random white guy is more worthy of awards than women or people of color.

Again, look at who was suggested for awards. The Sad Puppies list included those of both diversity of physical attributes and diversity of thought, something that the “normal” voters did not have and in fact voted against people of color and women and gays based on who nominated them rather than on the merits of their work.

Watching Hugo voters choose “no award” instead of their nominees did not teach the Puppies Catholic virtues like humility or grace, however. Instead, many became consumed with rage. If they couldn’t take over the Hugos, the next step was to destroy them.

Considering Puppies come in a whole range of religious beliefs, it’s rather bigoted to expect everyone to hold to Catholic virtues. It is obvious by the use of the terms that the writer does not understand either humility, nor grace. 

Writer tip: It is best not to use terms you don’t understand, especially specialized terms such as those used by a certain religion. Doing so will make you look ignorant and severely weaken your argument.

Beale got to work putting together ballots that were no longer just about stuffing the ballot with right-wing hacks, but a naked attempt to troll progressives…blah, blah, blah…Tingle

As was not clarified in the article, this happened in the 2016 Hugo Awards and was part of the Rapid Puppies plan to destroy the Hugos.

The Sad Puppies on the other hand had a long and diverse list of nominated works, only a few of which made it on the list of finalists.

As in 2015, all works nominated by either group were “no awarded”, which logically leads a rational person to conclude it was due to politics rather than merit.

Instead, Kritzer, whose story “Cat Pictures Please” was the one non-Puppy pick this year, deservedly won for her delightful portrayal of a search engine that gains both sentience and benevolence.

I have not read Kritzer’s work, so I cannot comment on whether it deserved to win or not.

Wright reacted with rage, as reactionaries tend to do in these circumstances, and implied that Kritzer’s win was just some kind of social-justice charity pick and that this lady writer ain’t no one special.

Again, a rational person would conclude that he were correct, seeing how only nominees chosen by either Puppy group were “no awarded.” For the record, Wright is a Rabid Puppy.

Writer tip: When your argument claims to use one event to illustrate another even, carry it all the way through. To do otherwise is to simply write a rant that is click-bait.

To sum up, Amanda’s argument failed miserably. Not only did it not illustrate how how Trump’s winning the Republican nomination was anything at all like the Hugo mess, it also failed to support it’s claim that the Puppies did anything wrong. It was all show and no substance. But, then that seems to be standard fair for Salon. 

My hope is that aspiring journalists learn from Amanda’s mistakes and unlike her, go on to have successful careers with reputable publications.

And if Trump’s winning the election and the Rabid Puppies dominating the nominations are any indication, a shift has begun. The reign of terror by the liberals is about to come to an end, whether they like it or not.

1 Comment

  1. // Reply

    Dawn, I’m honestly not a fan of science fiction and hear about sad puppies mostly .through your blog, but this seems to be a good explanation of what is happening. Your comment “Those special snowflakes who clutch their pearls at any opinion they don’t agree with are foaming at the mouth because the “lesser” people are standing up and telling their “betters” to back off.” seems to accurately describe what I am hearing from the disappointed anti-Trump crowd.

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