On the phone from the Middle East, where he is currently deployed, Torgersen lamented what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”

Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters, by Amy Wallace

In light of this year’s Hugo Award results, and with particular reference to Amy Wallace’s excellent rundown on the Puppies affair, I feel moved to address the Sad, rather than the Rabid, contingent. Per Torgersen’s remarks above, and setting aside every other aspect of the debate that renders me alternately queasy or enraged, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something fairly fundamental to the problem that’s consistently misunderstood by the Puppies, and which, when explained, might go a long way towards explaining the dissonance between what they think is happening and what is actually happening. Not that I particularly expect Torgersen or Correia to listen to me at this point; or if they did, I’d be greatly surprised. Even so, the point seems worth stating, if only for the sake of greater clarity.

When it comes to debating strangers with radically different perspectives, you sometimes encounter what I refer to as Onion Arguments: seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully. After all, if your interlocutor thinks they’ve asked a reasonable, easy question, your inability to answer it plainly is likely to make them think they’ve scored a point. It’s like a cocky first-year student asking a 101 question and feeling smug when their professor can’t condense the four years of study needed to understand why it’s a 101 question into a three-sentence answer. The problem is one as much of attitude as ignorance: having anticipated a quick response, your interlocutor has to be both willing and interested enough to want to hear what might, at least initially, sound like an explanation of a wholly unrelated issue – and that’s assuming you’re able to intuit the real sticking point straight off the bat.

So: inasmuch as any of the Puppies can be said to have a reasonable concern at the bottom of all their rhetoric, which often comes off as little more than “we think books about people who aren’t straight white dudes are boring”, it’s the worry that certain stories are being rewarded because they contain X character or are written by Y author rather than because they’re actually good. And given the way such books are often discussed and lauded by those who love them, where these aspects are openly stated as pros, you can see where the concern comes from. After all, the difference between saying “this book is great because it had a queer protagonist” and “this book is great because it had a well-written protagonist” seems, on the surface, pretty obvious: one is concerned with a single aspect of characterisation regardless of its execution, and the other is concerned with execution alone. So clearly, if you’re vaunting queerness (for instance) as though it’s a synonym for quality, you’re at risk of recommending mediocre stories on a tokenistic, uninformed basis.

Right?

Wrong.

But in order to explain why this is so, there’s six onion layers we need to unravel: context, experience, awareness, representation, language and taste.

Let’s start with layer one: context. While there’s always been an element of diversity in SFF – you can’t ignore the contributions of writers like Ursula K. Le Guin or Octavia Butler, or pretend that the Golden Age greats never wrote about politics – as the Puppies themselves agree, it’s only comparatively recently that a movement in favour of promoting diversity has flourished. Setting aside the question of whether this is a good or a bad thing, or merely just a thing, at a practical level, increased diversity in narrative means you’re adding a new set of variables to any critical equation, which in turn requires a new way to discuss them. For example: if the vast majority of protagonists in a given genre are straight, white men, then critically speaking, there’s little need to mention their straightness/whiteness/maleness when making reviews or recommendations, because none of these details are relevant in distinguishing Story A from Story B, or Character A from Character B. Instead, you talk about other things – the quality of the characterisation, for instance – and consider it a job well done.

Which, contextually, it is. And somewhat understandably, if this is what you’re used to, it can be easy to assume that ever mentioning race or gender or sexuality in a review is irrelevant – even when the characters are more diverse – because these details, whatever else they might indicate, have no bearing on the quality of the story.

Except, of course, they do, as per the evidence of layer two: experience. Who we are and where we’ve come from impacts on our construction; on our beliefs and personalities. Returning to a situation where straight white male characters are the default, a reviewer would be within their rights – would, indeed, be doing a good job – to discuss how Character A’s working class upbringing informs his personality, especially when compared with Character B’s more aristocratic heritage and attitudes. A veteran soldier will have a different perspective on combat to someone who’s only ever studied tactics at a remove, just as an old man who’s recently outlived the love of his life will think differently about romance to a teenager in the throes of his first infatuation. These details are critically pertinent because they demonstrate how and why two characters can experience the same story in radically different ways, and if we as readers happen to have some points in common with Character A or Character B, we’re always going to compare our own experiences with theirs, no matter how fantastical or futuristic the setting, because it helps us gauge whether, in our opinion, the writer has done a good job of portraying their thoughts and feelings realistically.

And so it is with details like race and gender and sexuality. A queer character will have different experiences to a straight one, particularly if they live in a homophobic culture; someone who’s religious will have a different outlook on life to someone who’s an atheist; a person from a racial and cultural minority will experience their surroundings differently to someone from the racial and cultural majority; someone who grows up poor will approach wealth differently to someone who’s always had it. How relevant these details are to individual characterisation and worldbuilding – and how successfully they’re executed within a given story – will, of course, vary on a case by case basis; but of necessity, they matter more often than not, and therefore deserve to be mentioned.

Which means that, if the straight white man is no longer the default character, but is rather just one of a number of options, his straightness, whiteness and maleness will be subject to new scrutiny, both in the present and as a retroactive phenomenon. This is layer three: awareness. All stories, no matter how fantastic or futuristic, are ultimately the product of their times, because their writers are the product of their times, too. We might envisage new worlds, but what we consider new depends as much on what we think is old as what we think is possible; our taboos change with the decade or century or according to cultural context; particular writing styles go in and out of vogue; and audiences, depending on their tastes and when they’re raised, expect a range of different things from narrative.

The retroactive criticism and analysis of old works has always been part of literary tradition; what changes is the present-day yardstick against which we measure them. Right now, we’re in the middle of a cultural shift spanning multiple fronts, both political and creative: we’re aware that stories are being told now which, for various reasons, haven’t often been told before, or which didn’t receive much prominence when they were, and which are consequently being told by a wider range of people. Depending on your personal political stance, and as with the question of diversity in the context layer, you might view this as a good thing, a bad thing, or merely a thing – but regardless of your beliefs, you can’t deny that it’s happening, and that it’s having an impact. As a direct result of this, many of us are now looking at old stories – and at old defaults – in a new light, which means that certain narratives and narrative elements which, by dint of once being so common as to void discussion, were considered thematically neutral, are now being treated as political. (Which, really, they always were – but more on that later.)

As our cultural taboos have shifted – as queerness has become decriminalised (if not always accepted) and rights extended to everyone regardless of race and gender (though still often enacted with prejudice) – the types of stories it’s acceptable to tell have changed, just as it’s now possible for a wider range of storytellers to be heard. We’re all aware of these changes, and whether we like them or not, their visibility makes us question our stories in ways we haven’t before. Thus: while there is nothing noteworthy in choosing to write a straight, white male protagonist in a cultural milieu where almost all protagonists share these qualities, the same act carries more meaning when the combination is understood to be just one of a number of possible choices; and especially where, of all those choices, it’s the one we’ve seen most often, and is therefore, in one sense, the least original. Which doesn’t make such characters inherently bad, or boring, or anything like that; nor does the presence of such characters – or the success of such writers – preclude the simultaneous presence of diversity. It simple means we have an increased awareness of the fact that, up until very recently, a certain type of character was the narrative default, and now that he’s not – or at least, now that he’s not to some people – it’s worth asking whether his presence is a sign that the writer, whether consciously or unconsciously, is perpetuating that default, and what that says about the story in either case.

Which brings us to the fourth layer: representation. Following on from the issue of awareness, consider that, as a wider variety of stories are now being told by a wider variety of people, a wider range of protagonists has consequently entered the narrative market. As with context and awareness, you might think this is a good thing, a bad thing, or merely a thing: regardless, it is happening, and will doubtless continue to happen. As such, a wider percentage of the audience is now having stories written both by and about them – or at least, about people like them – than in previous years; which means that, in response to the former dearth of such narratives, there’s been a corresponding rise in people requesting or recommending them primarily or prominently on the basis of their representational elements.

Ignoring for the moment all questions of quality – which, yes; I’m aware that’s the discussion we’re ultimately having, but bear with me – it should be a point of basic human empathy to understand why this is important; or at the very least, why representation matters to so many people. Despite our ability to empathise and connect with characters whose lives and experiences are utterly different to our own, we still like to see ourselves represented in fiction from time to time, not only as a form of validation – you’re worth telling stories about – but because, amidst so much difference, it’s a point of connection, affirmation, identity. Yet because straight white male characters were so long the default – and because that default, by virtue of its ubiquity, was considered politically neutral – changing the recipe, as it were, is still a visibly deliberate act: it makes the reader aware that the author chose for the character to be male or female, queer or straight, black or white (to give the simplest binary permutations), which awareness refutes the mythical idea of characters as the immaculate, fully-fledged gifts of some inviolable Muse, beyond the writer’s ability to pick or alter; and as such, there’s a reflexive tendency to conflate deliberate with forced, where the latter term carries implications of artificial, false, arbitrary, tokenistic. When these attributes don’t describe us, it’s easy to forget that actually, people like that do exist in the real world, and in considerable numbers; they’re not just something the author has made up out of whole cloth, and the fact that we might be surprised to see them in a given story doesn’t mean, ipso facto, that they’re incongruous within it.

As such, there’s a developing trend towards recommending stories which feature traditionally under-represented groups, not just as some arbitrary exercise, but because we’re aware that members of those groups might actually want to read those stories, and will, as a consequence, have a material interest in that aspect of the contents. But for precisely this reason, such recommendations are seldom indiscriminate, based, as Torgersen and the Puppies fear, solely on the presence of Character A regardless of execution or context – because even though protagonists have long defaulted to being straight, white and male, there’s an equally long tradition of other groups being portrayed badly. The fact that a book contains multiple female characters is no guarantee that those characters are written well, let alone inoffensively, just as the presence of POC within a classic text doesn’t mean their portrayal and treatment isn’t screamingly racist – which is why, when you see  diversity advocates recommending books on the basis that Character A is queer (for instance), the implication is that the filtering for quality has already taken place; that Character A both exists in a well-written narrative and isn’t a walking stereotype. The entire point of the exercise is to promote stories, not on the basis of token or forced diversity alone, but which portray diversity well – and because an author writing from their personal, in-depth experience is likely to have an extensive understanding of the topic, this support naturally extends to mentioning if, for instance, the author of a story starring multiple queer characters is queer themselves, not because there’s an assumption that straight people can’t write excellent stories about queer individuals, but because within any field or group, there’s always going to be a degree of insight or insider knowledge that can only be understood through personal experience, and it’s worth recognising which books are likely to replicate it, especially if we’re insiders, too, and are therefore more likely to notice if those perspectives are missing.

Consider, for instance, the probable insights contained in a military SF novel written by serving soldier, as distinct from one written by a military historian, as distinct again from one whose author’s knowledge of combat, tactics and fighting comes primarily from what they’ve read or seen in other fictional stories. The different backgrounds and knowledge-bases of these hypothetical authors says nothing about how well they write fiction, or how skilled they might be at other aspects of storytelling; they might have wildly different narrative styles and work within very different worlds, such that comparing their books, for all that they ostensibly share a genre, is a tricky proposition. All three books could be excellent in different ways, and all three books could be poor. But if someone you knew  to be both a good judge of fiction and possessed of actual combat experience – let’s call them Sam – handed you the first writer’s book and said, “Read this! The author actually served overseas!”, you’d probably deduce from context that, having served themselves, Sam was telling you that this writer gets it; their experience is my experience, or close enough to mine to be recognisable, and they know what they’re talking about. 

Similarly, if Sam praised either of the other two books for the military content, you’d understand that they were speaking from a position of personal experience: that, to someone with firsthand knowledge of fighting, the tactical/combat elements didn’t feel unrealistic or forced. By the same token, if Sam disliked the first book, you might take the criticism seriously while considering that, as the author was writing from their own first-hand perspective, too, a lack of realism wasn’t necessarily at fault, so much as a clash of opinions. But if Sam told you categorically that the third writer had no idea what they were talking about – that, regardless of any other qualities the book might have, the military aspect was hopeless – you’d be inclined to take that criticism more seriously than if a civilian friend with no grasp of tactics recommended it wholeheartedly; but depending on your own status as civilian, historian or soldier – and how badly you wanted to read the book for other reasons – your own reaction could be different again.

What I mean to say is this: seen from the outside, it’s easy to look at the members of a community recommending stories on what seems to you a superficial basis, and to conclude that, actually, nobody in that conversation is concerned with quality at all. But as per the fifth layer – language – what you’re really witnessing is a collectively understood shorthand: a way of signalling quickly that this book or that is worthy of attention based on a deeper awareness of commonly-held priorities, with respect accorded to those whose recommendations are supported by their personal experiences. Particularly on Twitter, where conversations between small groups are visible to non-participants and where character limitations make exposition difficult, it makes sense that bloggers, writers and critics alike try to be as succinct and powerful in their advocacy as possible. Just as I would accord a greater critical weight to the judgement of a soldier recommending a military SF novel, if a person of colour praises a book for its positive racial representation – or, conversely, criticises its lack thereof – I’m going to consider that relevant.

Which all ties in neatly to the final layer: taste. I’ve said before, and will say again, that I’m a firm believer in the value of negative reviews. Not only do they serve an important critical function, but as another person’s taste is seldom identical to our own, they help us construct a more useful idea of where our interests overlap with the critic’s, and where they diverge. Demonstrably, there’s an audience right now for diverse fiction: for stories which reject the old defaults and showcase a wider range of people, themes and places. The fact that some people enjoy such works does not, in and of itself, make them good works, just as popularity is no guarantee of goodness, either. The Venn diagram of why we love something is seldom a perfect circle with its objective strengths, inasmuch as such strengths can be reasonably said to exist: creative endeavours are funny like that. There’s always going to be a sort of tension between technique and passion, skill and heart, not because those things are in any way diametric opposites, but because we can never quite agree on whether one is more important than the other, or if you can really have one without the other, or where the distinction between them lies if, for instance, the most heartfelt aspects of a story are only so because of their technically sound expression.

As such, creative awards are contentious creatures – have always been so; will always be so – inasmuch as presenting one represents the imposition of an objective judgement into a fundamentally subjective medium; and because all claims to objectivity are inherently political, so must awards be political, too. This isn’t new information, though some people, like the Puppies, have become mightily outraged at the revelation that what they’ve historically perceived as a lack of politics was, in fact, merely a political bias towards their own comfort. That they are no longer predominantly catered to, they perceive as being under attack; what they call the forced introduction of politics into a formerly neutral space is rather the revelation of existing politics through a natural process of change. A sandbar might be solid for years, but when it shifts with the ocean and so makes new waves, it hasn’t betrayed the people standing on it – though possibly, it might have collapsed sooner beneath their weight, especially if they mistook it for solid and made it the foundation of an improbable edifice.

I guess what I want to say is this: despite what the Puppies think, the rest of us aren’t interested in diversity without quality, and as we’re all acutely aware, the failure mode of diversity is stereotype, which concept isn’t exactly on handshake terms with quality in the first place. That we want to celebrate historically silenced voices and perspectives doesn’t mean we’re doing so purely to spite you, or that we’ve lost all sense of judgement: if our tastes extend to seeing in fiction those versions of ourselves you’re disinclined to write, then who are you to tell us we aren’t entitled to our preferences? Nobody is saying you can’t tell your stories; we just might not want to read them, the same as you evidently have no desire to read ours. That’s not the genre being attacked – it’s the genre changing, and whether you change with it or not, we’re still going to like what we like.

Stop fighting the riptide, Puppies. As any Australian could tell you, it’s the surest way to drown.

Comments
  1. sherylnantus says:

    Reblogged this on Sheryl Nantus and commented:
    Some wonderful thoughts here – whether you read SFF or not; whether you’re aware of the entire Hugos debate this year or not. Read. Think. And have a good day!

  2. Thank you for writing this so that I can point to it when having conversations about representation and the whole onion.

  3. Cat says:

    This is marvelous. I hope you don’t mind if I link to it elsewhere.

  4. […] And Foz Meadows’ piece is worth a read, “Hugos and Puppies: Peeling the Onion”. […]

  5. David says:

    This is an excellent, gracious and reason-filled piece. I hope that it is read widely and also that it is THOUGHT ABOUT. It deserves to be.

  6. xServer says:

    Thanks for the great article. I think you’ve caught the basis of this whole conflict (assuming no actual bad intent or ill-will is present) perfectly.

  7. brsanders says:

    I think so much of what the puppies (ugh I hate that nickname) are fighting against is that they are being forced to reckon with the fact that their dominant identities means that they are not actually the empty starting point, that Whiteness/straightness/cis-ness/etc matters and colors the narrative, that objectivity is a lie, which is what you’ve so beautifully articulated here.

  8. Lurkertype says:

    If the Puppy nominations were supposed to be about quality, they failed miserably. Dear god-of-your-choice, that was some miserable prose which often bore no resemblance to a story. Thanks (? LOL) to Mary Robinette for sponsoring memberships to a few of us poverty-stricken fen. I was glad to get some of the Hugo packet, and proud to vote.

    brsanders also makes the good point succinctly.

    Change is a thing. Cabals don’t cause it, the very nature of society and human beings change it. Stand athwart it at your peril.

    Foz, I too will point at this as a great answer (and I’ll remember it when nominating time rolls around again).

  9. Ian R. Gillespie says:

    I think there are a lot of intelligent thoughts here, but I also think it is – in many ways – much simpler than this.

    Here’s how I’d peel the onion:

    Telling stories from a variety of points of view is part and parcel of any effort to explore of the human condition – which, for many of us, is what sci-fi is all about. Featuring protagonists from traditionally under-represented groups isn’t some form of tokenism. In fact, it’s no less a valid literary element than Ray Bradbury exploring themes of censorship, or Isaac Asimov telling a story from the perspective of a robot.

    There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a story because you identify with, or like, characters of certain type – whether they’re angry or charming, black or white, deaf or dumb, male or female. And if you think about it for minute, it’s also obvious that the background of an author inevitably bleeds into their work in a million similar ways – thus it’s pretty natural for that background to affect the story itself and which people might like it.

    So, some people will genuinely enjoy certain stories, rather more or rather less, based on the background of characters. Same goes for the life-experience of the author. Same goes for their political views. None of these elements are extraneous to the story. They are part of the story. They affect the story.

    All that said, these elements are just that – elements. There are plenty of stories written by authors from all kinds of background – or told from all sorts of original, or interesting, points of view – that are just bad stories.

    But before assuming that the thousands, or tens of thousands of people who say they enjoy these works are saying that out of pure tokenism – or in the case of George R.R. Martin’s paradigm breaking work that re-defines gender and sexual orientation in fantasy, millions of people – consider that they may just enjoy these works more than you because they like and identify with the themes and perspectives that you don’t.

  10. J.M.Frey says:

    *standing ovation*

    EXCELLENTLY well said.

  11. I am well interested in all this because its GROWING pains for a genre that was used to be a niche market and now has to change……as a genre who thought they were both different and exclusive were perhaps more institutional that we/they thought…much interest

  12. […] Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion. About the Sci Fi thing as the genre a. realizes its more institutionalized than it thought b. has growing pains as its become popularized […]

  13. […] (23) Foz Meadows on Shattersnipe: Malcontent & Rainbow – “Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion” […]

  14. Rechan says:

    I think this post is accurate and spot on.

    I also wanted to add something that might be a counter-argument, or might reinforce it, or might not, because it’s a blog post about the hard data of Hugo nominees/winners based solely on Gender, then comparing those against Goodreads ratings, and the number of women authors in SF/F. It’s an insightful breakdown because, using the data presented, it is less clear cut one way or the other. Each side has a trend in their favor. Bare in mind that this was written back in April, so it’s not taking into account the winners from this weekend:

    http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2015/04/14/sad-puppy-data-analysis/

  15. Reblogged this on But What Do I Know? and commented:
    So the Hugos have been voted on and awarded and the Puppies have comprehensively lost to No Award. The fact that at least one of them is claiming this as a victory demonstrates that he at least is living in a world not well connected to where the rest of us live. The claims of the rest of them that ‘affirmative action’ in the sense of valuing diversity has lost out to ‘quality’, has the feel to me that to them, ‘quality’ means ‘what I like’. Foz Meadows demonstrates here the root of this misunderstanding and shows how valuing quality and valuing diversity complement one another.

  16. […] really like Foz Meadows’ blog post (Hugos & Puppies: Peeling the Onion) on why these conversations are often frustrating to […]

  17. Karl says:

    A very nice analysis. Thank you.

  18. A says:

    I’m undoubted biased by my own degree of knowledge, but it seems that the “As such” paragraph is a perfectly adequate starting point, in terms of ideas/explanations. (paraphrased) “Personal experience provides valuable insight” and “It is given that a recommendation post contains things of quality” — are these so difficult to understand?

  19. Avery says:

    Actually, the data of the Hugo voting show something very different from the alternate reality you pose here.

    There were 2,500 to 3,000 hard core votes in lockstep in the Hugo voting. These lockstep votes were “no award” to anything on a slate. This included people unconnected to the controversy (Jim Butcher) and those who are longstanding WorldCon attendees who have won many times previously (Mike Resnik) and respected editors (Teri from Baen). Detailed breakdowns of the actual votes are readily available – and this was the voting.

    What the SJWs did was lockstep, mindless voting “no” to protest anything nominated by people they did not like – regardless of the quality or lack thereof of the nominees. A large number of SJWs proudly proclaimed “we are voting no award regardless of the quality of the nominees.” Guess that demonstrates “tolerance” and “open-mindedness.”

    Sad Puppies was founded by Larry Correia to prove several points.
    1] The Hugos are a fan award.
    2] The Hugos are voted on by an insular number of fans who vote in lockstep based on political views.

    The lockstep voting of 2,500 to 3,000 voters pretty much proved the point. The message is far, far more important than the quality of the work.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Oh, you mean lockstep like Theo Beale asking that everyone vote his chosen slate without alteration in the first place? That sort of thing?

      By the admission of Beale, Correia and Torgersen, the works on *their* slates were chosen on the basis of politics as much as content. So if you’re going to be upset that people voted against them en masse on the basis of said politics while voting for other works whose content they liked, but claim that’s a fundamentally different thing to what the Puppies did – even though the Puppies started it – you’re a hypocrite.

      Also: if it was only 3000-odd people who blocked the Puppies, are you implying that the Puppies are the real majority here, or that they’re an even smaller minority? Because if they’re the majority, the numbers are doing a shitty job of proving it; and if they’re the minority, then arguing that the people who beat them are a tiny clique, rather than being representative of wider preferences, doesn’t really make any sense.

      • Jaron says:

        Perhaps you should re-read what Avery said. He is talking about the Sad Puppies, not Beale’s Rabid Puppies. Yes, Beale asked his followers to vote exactly as he suggested. No SP that I’m aware of has said Beale didn’t encourage his followers to block vote. Such behavior was also not condoned by the SP organizers. That’s why the RP slate had a much higher success rate of getting officially nominated. In contrast, SP recommended works had votes much more spread out. So you’re lumping in Brad and Larry with Beale simply because they share some overlap in literary taste.

        Second, I challenge you to show where either Larry or Brad ever admitted or claimed that their recommended lists were politically based. If you actually look at their nominations, you’ll see the creators behind the works have a very wide range of political backgrounds. You’d also see a range of both men and women, and skin tones of many colors. So implying that they only nominated straight white men is a lie of the highest degree.

        Third, if you’re going to talk numbers, perhaps you should look at past Hugo voting results for a better idea of what the SPs were talking about. Awards in 2009 and 2010 had only a couple hundred votes in total. Think about that. The award that’s supposed to be the absolute best in all the world, that’s claimed to be the fan’s award for all the world’s millions or billions of SF/F fans was determined by a fraction of a fraction of a percent. A votership that comparably small is rather easy to sway one way or another using only a handful of people. The SPs claimed this. The Hugos said it wasn’t true. So the SPs showed how vulnerable it was. And there was outrage. And in the outrage was lost a big part of the SP’s goal: they wanted to get more people voting for the Hugo. This year each award had more people voting for a single nomination then previous years had total votes combined. Whether or not you see that the Puppies won or not with the 2015 results, you can’t deny that they succeeded in their goal of simply getting more people to vote, which is almost always a good thing.

        And you’re losing sight of some of the biggest ironies here.

        Three Body Problem won Best Novel, and it wasn’t on either Puppy list. In fact it only got on the ballot due to Larry and Marko declining their nominations. However, Beale is on record numerous places that it wasn’t on his original list simply because he didn’t read it before the nomination deadline, but that he considered it fantastic and would certainly have nominated it had he read it sooner. So think about this. As it is, most people probably don’t know about Beale’s recommendation here. So in a vacuum, obviously a lot of people think the book deserves the award. However, had Beale read it earlier and put it on his slate, most of those that voted for it would have it below “No Award.” Obviously the work is considered good, but a slight twist in events and you would have completely shunned it due to an unfortunate relation that is in no way the fault of the author or the work itself. That is expressly ideology over quality.

        Next, consider Toni Weisskopf. Last year she received numerous votes above “No Award,” even going to the final recount for first place. She is lauded by everyone who knows and works for her. Obviously she does good work. Yet again, ideology is chosen over actual work quality. If she was better than “No Award” last year, why is her work suddenly this year so atrocious?

        • xServer says:

          You realize that what you are saying is that The Three Body Problem would have won without Puppy intervention…so the best book, one that Puppies and non-Puppies agree on, would have won.

          Isn’t that sort of a direct refutation of the idea that the Hugos regular crowd only votes message fiction instead of voting for things that are actually good?

          • Eric says:

            That’s not even close to what I said. So either you lack comprehension skills or you’re trying to intentionally twist my words. Neither looks good for you.

            Neither you nor I know what the final nominations would have been without Puppy intervention, and I have never claimed otherwise. We can only speculate. It’s quite possible that Lines of Departure would still have been a nominee, and if it had, Marko would probably have left it there. The Chaplain’s War is also very close in nomination votes to TBP, so it well could have been a nominee too. Among all those, can you say TBP would have certainly won anyway?

            What you missed is the demonstrated hypocrisy. Most anti-Puppies are saying they didn’t vote politics, they simply think that everything recommended by any kind of Puppy was dreck. However had TBP actually been on a Puppy slate, as it would have been if it was read earlier, I feel certain it would have lost to No Award as well. So yes, I believe voting WAS politically biased in that it was more important to spite the Puppies rather than to fully consider the quality of the nominees. Some anti-Puppies have even confirmed they did just this.

            It’s not that the Puppy’s nominations didn’t win any awards. It’s that they were all below No Award. And not just below, they were shoved to the basement. Skin Game was the closest at 600 votes below. The rest were often thousands of votes lower. Thousands! The numbers you’d expect from a random group of people would be much more distributed. Sure, there’d still be some works below No Award, but you’d also expect just as many above. That was not the case here.

            So please consider this. Sad Puppies was organized by published, successful writers. To get to where they are, they obviously have demonstrated no small amount of skill and talent in writing. Which suggests that collectively they would have a decent eye for recognizing talent and quality in others. To say that quality perfectly prevailed in the 2015 Hugos is to say that numerous successful authors and supporters together couldn’t manage to find even one notable work that was worthy of any consideration at all. I can’t even begin to compute the odds on that.

            If you want to say it was backlash because a lot of people simply voted against the idea of a slate, regardless of what was on it, and just went for quality on whatever was left over, I’ll accept that. And if you’re going to say that then my question is why there was such lashing out against this and not before when others were putting forth recommended lists. However don’t give me this garbage that it was still voted on quality alone.

      • The puppy assertion is that the multiple “no award” votes was the result of “lockstep, mindless voting,” and not the result of an informed and enraged voting public refusing en masse to reward people who have for the last several months been insulting them and openly gloating about fixing the Hugos. This assertion is made without evidence, and can be rejected without evidence. It is simply a fact that Vox Day openly bragged about his Rabid Puppies being stormtroopers for his cause, and has stated that he wants to destroy science fiction entirely because he cannot control it.

        As long as “no award” exists as an option, you cannot fix the Hugos because the Hugo voters will always have a release valve: If you take a fair contest away, we will not reward your lebensborn with any award at all. The Hugos do not exist to reward the “right” kind of politics, they exist to reward excellence in science fiction and fantasy. And if I have met a more cantankerous, difficult-to-please crowd than SFF fans, who are less willing to entertain posturing and self-congratulatory nonsense, I have yet to recognize having done so.

        • Eric says:

          “Lebensborn”? Really? Finally Godwin shows up.

          I don’t suggest to remove the No Award function. You’re absolutely right, it can be used as a safety valve. And I’m already familiar with Beale’s antics and don’t condone them. That you continue to conflate him with Brad, Larry, Sarah, and the Sad Puppies is where I suggest you reevaluate your thinking.

          And while there was plenty of foul behavior involved on every side, I suggest you try to also widen your view on who was throwing the insults. I’ve lost count of the mainstream media outlets baselessly and libelously calling all Sad Puppies a bunch of racist, sexist, bigoted, hateful, spiteful white males who were only trying to nominate and award other straight white males. And let’s not forget the lovely Tor employees saying the SPs were all neo-Nazi fascists. That’s not a few outlying supporters, those are core participants on the anti-Puppy side.

          The Puppies didn’t make any contest unfair. They looked at past results and saw two problems. One, a lot of works that they really enjoyed and thought were great accomplishments not only didn’t get awards, they weren’t even nominated. That didn’t seem right for an award that is supposed to represent the absolute best in ALL of SF/F. Also, the past awards were being decided by a very small number of people ( as proven by the vote totals ), also something that seems wrong for such an award. The best solution to both problems was to get more people involved in the voting, which they did. No where did they try to hide their intentions. No where did they block anyone else from becoming a voter. Nothing was done unfairly. Everyone else was free to get involved whenever they liked, but they failed to do so.

          And any idea that the public simply responded to vote for ONLY excellence in the 2015 awards is absurd. You’re suggesting that the Puppies have horrible taste in all form of SF media except film and small screen. It’s rather ridiculous to propose that out of the remaining 50+ nominations, they couldn’t put forth even one work worthy of consideration. Three Body Problem demonstrates perfectly that it had nothing to do with quality and everything to due with blocking the Puppy nominees at all costs.

          • I’m not suggesting that the RP slate (because the “I would prefer you vote” SP slate only got on the ballot insofar as it reflected the priorities of the “vote for these stories and only these stories” RP slate, which indicates that the SP3 slate, in a vacuum, would have been about as successful as the SP1 and SP2 slates) represents mediocre science fiction. Having read ALL of the short stories, ALL of the novelettes, three of the five nominated novellas and one of the two nominated novels (plus all three of the non-RP nominees for novel), I’m flat-out saying it. The awful quality of the prose that was nominated on the Rabid Puppies slate was revelatory (“Guided By The Beauty of their Weapons” by Phil Sandifer gives a pretty decent takedown on the puppy picks for the fiction awards). This year’s prose slate was the weakest in years, possibly the weakest in a decade or more.

            Also, when Vox “shooting Malala was logically defensible” Day is involved, Nazi comparisons actually become pretty damn fair.

            • Eric says:

              You really ought to stop filling my ammo depot.

              So you’re saying that you didn’t even read all the Puppy related nominees before calling them all mediocre. Got it.

              You also might want to rethink citing Sandifer. First, he basically says no one should be using him as a source ( https://twitter.com/PhilSandifer/status/636042584830406657 ). More importantly, he proudly claims to have voted strictly on creator’s politics, not on the work itself ( https://twitter.com/PhilSandifer/status/635353299672301568 ). It’s usually a bad idea to prop someone up as a spokesman when they admit to doing exactly what the opposition accuse them of doing.

              And continually bringing up Beale/Day with me is asinine. For the last time, he is not affiliated with the Sad Puppies. If you want to throw your bile at him and and the Rabid faction, go right ahead. But blaming everyone for the actions of one man that they have no right or power to try to control is beyond ridiculous. Now you’re probably going to say, “Well that’s your fault, you guys should have tried to distance yourself from him sooner.” If you’re claiming guilt by association, then you have to apply it to yourselves as well. Are you claiming that you have distanced yourself from every family member, friend, co-worker, and associate who has ever said or done something stupid, embarrassing, or questionable? I doubt it.

              Believe it or not, but it is entirely possible to disagree with someone without hating them or trying to force them to change their way of thinking. Here’s another pro tip: if you’re trying to argue that you have the moral high ground over someone, hurling insults ( such as calling them Nazis ) is probably the last thing you want to do.

              • fozmeadows says:

                The Sad Puppies supported Beale openly; of course they’re related.

                • Eric says:

                  Prove that, please. Show me where they openly supported Beale’s antics that you so despise. Show me where they said, like him, “Vote for this and only for this.” Show me where they condoned and supported his threats against specific people. I’ll wait.

                  They have supported his writing at times when they thought the writing was credible. If you can’t separate the work from the person, then you cannot honestly consider yourself a reasonable voice on the matter. I don’t like Jim Hines’ behavior against the puppies, but I still enjoy his princess series of books. If someone decides they don’t want to buy Beale’s work, regardless of quality, because they severely disagree with him as a person, that is fine as well. But if they haven’t actually read and examined his work, they can’t give an honest opinion of it either. Even if they did read it, I’d seriously doubt their opinion on it since it is very difficult to not try to find every fault with it while ignoring the good.

                  You’re making the mistake of saying that because SP has endorsed some of Beale’s professional work they must therefore endorse all of his personal activity. By that argument, you’d be guilty of condoning tax fraud, adultery, kiddie porn, or other activity if one of your favorite authors, actors, musicians, etc were involved in it. That’s a lovely downward McCarthy spiral.

                  • fozmeadows says:

                    I never said they supported his “antics”, however you want to define that word. I said they supported HIM – meaning, his slate, his participation in attacking the Hugos, and his writing, however hard they tried to backpedal on that fact subsequently. They included his works in their slate, as well as nominating him personally for Best Editor and giving works published by his tiny press a number of individual nominations. There is a lot of Vox in the Sad Puppy slate, and you can’t get around that. No, that doesn’t mean they unquestioningly supported his politics, but it does mean they brought him into the arena and, at least initially, touted him as an ally.

                    In March, Torgersen said of Beale: “Ted Beale (Vox Day) and I disagree on a lot. We approach the SJW crusade from rather different viewpoints. But Beale’s been a gentleman with me, and I with him.” Elsewhere in the same thread, he said, “I have to agree with Vox” about the Puppy campaign – a thread on Torgersen’s blog in which Vox himself was an active participant. They communicated with each other, they spoke to each other about the Puppy campaign, and they put his name heavily forward when trying to establish what they thought was the best of SF.

                    They only disavowed all connection with him later, when it became apparent that associating with him so openly had hurt their cause. That’s just one thread and one example; the point I’m making is that they backed him in public, then tried to run away from it.

                    • Eric says:

                      That’s your proof? This shouldn’t be too hard.

                      They supported his slate? Exactly how do you want to define that? If they supported his slate, why did they make their own? What would be the point of that? That they supported his ability to make a market a slate is not in question. That’s no different from me supporting your right to write these opinions. I don’t necessarily agree with or support your opinions, but I of course support your right to make them.

                      They supported his opposition to what he viewed as the stagnation of the Hugos? Well, of course. They saw the same problem. Simply agreeing that there’s a problem does not mean agreeing on the solution to the problem, nor on the best method of the solution. Brad even said he didn’t share the same viewpoint with Ted in that handy quote you provided.

                      They included his works on previous slates? Um, yeah, I already said that. Including his professional works on a slate has nothing to do with him as a person. Are you also going to blame Marko Kloos for Vox Day because Marko was also on the SP list?

                      Brad’s quotes that you’ve mentioned are completely pointless in this facet. Brad says that he and Ted disagree a lot ( something I’ve already mentioned ), that he doesn’t approach the Hugos the same way as Ted ( also something I’ve already mentioned ), but that Ted has always been a gentlemen to Brad. So what? Only the most unscrupulous politician would try to spin that as a whole-hearted endorsement. “I disagree with the guy, and I don’t like some of his viewpoints and methods, but yeah, I totally stand behind everything he does.” Right . . .

                      As for the “I have to agree with Vox” part, let’s examine the whole thing, shall we? He said, “As to the contention that a positive campaign would have done wonders, while a negative campaign failed, I have to agree with Vox.” The positive/negative campaign note came from another user, Cpt Carnage, who for all intents and purposes was there to troll Brad and Ted. Ted’s response to that is here).

                      What could be more positive than providing a list of recommended works and encouraging people to vote for them?

                      Given your question, why would you criticize such a manifestly positive campaign or attempt to discourage Mr. Torgersen from providing more positivity in 2015?

                      So, Brad agrees with Ted that the intent of SP was to be positive. And you take that to be Brad’s endorsement of all things Vox Day. Got it.

                      If you would bother to search the rest of that discussion thread, you’ll find many parts where Brad intercedes for other users ( one in particular ) when he feels others are targeting them, when women in general are being treated unfairly, or when Vox gets out of line. You can check them here, here, and here.

                      I’ve never said Vox Day isn’t involved in this whole thing. All I’ve said is that it is very dishonest and unfair to blame Larry, Brad, and the rest of the Sad Puppies for everything Beale does or has done. If that’s your rule, then I doubt you’ll complain if I apply comments from Irene Gallo, Moshe Feder, TNH, or PNH to you, right?

                • Personally I am just beyond tired of the “good vs. evil” narrative embraced by the “anti-SJW” types who populate the internet (and what does it say about you when your conception of “good” is that which directly opposes social justice?).

                  What it comes down to for me is this: A bunch of guys went all Sideshow Bob (“Your guilty conscience may move you to vote Democratic, but deep down you long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king”) And SFF fandom responded, “The devil you say!”

                  The truth is, there are no SJWs. There’s just a bunch of fans who got really fed up with somebody trying to tell them what they should want to read. It’s possible to argue that the editor awards shouldn’t have been no-awarded, but I suspect that by the time most people reached that point on the ballot they were angry enough with the Puppies that the general response was, “A pox on you AND your house.”

                  • dabeorn says:

                    Artemis of course you are tired of the “Good vs Evil”….. you would have to refuse to look at the world in grays.

                    As for the Author, they agree with you.
                    “Right?

                    Wrong.”

                    Right is right and wrong is wrong. If I run over you in a car then my actions caused you harm…..even if you were blocking the exit and I could not swerve around you.

                • julieapascal says:

                  Context:

                  Certainly it is a good thing to promote diversity. Certainly it is relevant to mention what makes a story interesting. And certainly, when reviewing a book, it’s necessary to faithfully describe the nature of the book. Which is why, I dare say, that people don’t go around explaining that “A Few Good Men” has a gay protagonist and gay relationship and that the plot is completely dependent on events that only occurred because of the violent homophobia of the protagonist’s “father” when they describe the book. It’s Space Opera featuring a war and a revolution. Lots of ‘splody things and daring escapes.

                  Experience:

                  You’ll have to tighten this part up a bit because I’m unsure what point you intend to focus on. Reality is this… there is “me” and there are “aliens”. We read and write about the aliens.

                  Awareness:

                  What I understand you to say is that white male characters have been the default and now that they’re not the default, the presence of a white male protagonist is potentially problematic evidence of bad-think… ie., “perpetuating that default.”

                  Representation:

                  People like to see someone like themselves in stories sometimes so it’s a good thing to mention it. Close? But what is really really important is for someone to appoint him or herself as the judge of which representation was well done and which representation was done wrong. Members of some demographic or other are assumed to have done their own demographic right, until someone like Requires Hate starts attacking them for having done it wrong despite their PoC status.

                  Yeah, okay, so that was extremely crabby. But it’s the truth. It really is impossible to do it right. Everyone will make a mistake, somehow, or be able to be accused of making a mistake somehow. Elevating this nit picking to something laudable is why bullies and harassers get away with what they do. Who is going to call them on it until it’s so bad that Laura Mixon has to write a research paper? Why couldn’t anyone just say, wow, hello adult time, knock it off? It took foot notes.

                  Writers who are bad at characterization are bad at it for all of their characters. I’ve never read an author that got some people right and other people wrong. The story might be such that you don’t care that cardboard is saving the world, but that’s something else. Someone who does a bad job is pretty easy to spot. People who do good jobs are easy to nit pick. This doesn’t actually contribute good things to the world or encourage writers to stretch their wings or to include lots of diverse characters. It suppresses risk and encourages keeping your casts to those “white male characters” that no one is going to attack you for… much.

                  Language:

                  You have a useful short hand. It doesn’t mean what we think it means. It’s just that you’re telling other people with your same interests that this book will interest them as well.

                  That’s fair.

                  But understand that other communities have other verbal short hand that doesn’t mean what you think it means either.

                  Couched in your final paragraphs is the assumption that what Puppies wanted from the past was the comfort zone. But since you don’t and won’t read “the books we like” you’ve no actual idea what is in them, diversity-wise. The presence of “diversity”, either the fiction or the author, does not make Puppies uncomfortable. What myself and many Puppies wanted, and clearly said they wanted from the past was wonder and adventure. Was that so hard to take at face value? Is there something about diverse casts and authors that precludes wonder and adventure so if we want one we must not want the other?

                  And do you think that it just might, *maybe*, be part of a reviewers job to mention elements of a novel or story that will appeal to those other people over there that you don’t like very much?

          • xServer says:

            Three Body Problem shows the opposite. Quality won and it won with non-Puppy votes.

            Personally I preferred The Goblin Emperor but those are the breaks.

        • Rechan says:

          The other reason people may have voted “No award” is that they simply thought that none of the nominated writing was good enough. I know at least one voter who stated as much.

        • Greg Price says:

          Apparently you weren’t at the Awards Ceremony then, because posturing and self-congratulatory nonsense was on full display every time the audience was encouraged to cheer “No Award” but those inclined to boo were told to essentially “sit down and shut up”.

          • Shaenon says:

            I was at the awards ceremony. The audience was not encouraged to cheer (by whom?), nor did they. Many people applauded. Gerrold’s admonition against booing was directed at those who might be inclined to boo the Puppy nominees, although personally I didn’t hear any booing. Trust me, there was no danger of anyone booing No Award. You can watch videos of the ceremony and see for yourself.

            Face it: nobody except the Puppies liked what the Puppies tried to do.

    • A L Green says:

      But there was a single puppy-nominated work that breaks that ‘lockstep’ – Guardians of the Galaxy won. Despite the nominations, voters recognized it as quality work and voted accordingly. The No Award categories were not lock-step voting — they were ‘this is not quality’ voting.

      It’s why none of the puppies are talking about their single win — because it was about a quality film and not an ideological win like a J. C. Wright piece would have been.

      Guardians neatly reveals that the puppy emperors have, in fact, no clothes.

      • Jaron says:

        GotG would have won with or without Puppy support, and it wasn’t even close. The other movie and TV nominees were also on the Puppy slate and none of them had No Award above them. Outside those two categories, No Award was higher than any other Puppy related nominee.

        So you’re saying that’s because the ONLY place SP has any overlap in taste in quality material is in video? Everything else they like is garbage? No literature, no art, no editing, no publishing or podcasting they like is in any way, shape, or form good quality and award worthy? Are you aware how statistically unlikely that is?

        Did you not read above that last year Toni had many votes for her, but this year she lost 2:1 to No Award? So one year she’s one of the five best editors, but this year she’s not qualified for the award? Did you not see that Beale highly recommended Three Body Problem? If you agree with the award winners, and your words suggest you do, then you say it’s the best SF/F novel this year. How would you change your tune if Beale had read it early enough to add to his slate? Would that suddenly make it complete dross?

        It’s far more likely that the No Award block simply didn’t bother with the dramatic presentation categories, or as much as they were devoted to their cause they couldn’t bring themselves to spite their favorite movies or TV shows.

        • What did Toni Weisskopf do /this year/ that was award-worthy? The Hugo is not a lifetime achievement award, it’s an award for excellence that was displayed /this year./ I’ve noted several people saying that when it came time to look at the Hugo-nominated works, that they couldn’t see what she’d done /this year/ that was so excellent, and so below no award she went.

        • guthrie says:

          Beale is an unreliable narrator; anything he says should be taken with a bucket of salt.

          • Eric says:

            Then apply that both ways.

            • fozmeadows says:

              Why? Nobody else in this argument except Beale thinks democracy is materially ruined by female suffrage.

              • Eric says:

                If you’re willing to say he’s lying and exaggerating on something when it’s convenient for you, then you should also be willing to say the same when it isn’t.

                • guthrie says:

                  No, we’re willing to say that he’s lying and exaggerating when it is convenient for him.
                  Ultimately things reach the stage when we don’t have time to sort out every last comment and statement, and it is simpler to just blanket ignore them.

        • Amanda says:

          Beale is the very definition of an unreliable narrator and the ‘I would have voted for it’ as he stands among the ruin of his denied slate smacks of some very sour grapes. I’m going to ignore that ‘would you have’. The point is moot; he didn’t, he’s an open xenophobe and right now he’s covering his ass while screeching about moral victory. So, I don’t have to worry about the mystery of Three Body Problems.

          See, I love Skin Game. I love it. I love Jim Butcher’s work. But I also know that Skin Game is not the strongest Dresden Files books, that it did not push the boundary for SFF, did not create anything noteworthy for the genre. (I would, considering the overarching quality, much preferred to see a Dresden Files completed work nomination for the series at it’s conclusion, but the puppies have denied Butcher that now.) So yes, I’m sorry: in regards to the award for that year’s pinnacle of fiction… it went below No Award.

          As for Toni: I don’t vote for editors because I have, as a fan, no accurate way to gauge their work. How am i supposed to judge? By books published by the house I enjoyed? Anthologies curated? So on, so forth– I think the category should probably be abolished, personally, because of those issues.

          • Eric says:

            Thank you, I appreciate your candor.

            As I said above for Beale, if you’re going to declare him an unreliable narrator, then you should apply that to all he says, not just the parts that are convenient.

            I am somewhat in agreement about editors. Having an editor myself, I appreciate what they do and think it good to have an award for them. However it would be very difficult for fans to judge their work without having access to all the drafts and revisions.

            I don’t agree with your methodology on No Award, but that is purely personal preference. In order for me to feel a book, movie, or story has pushed a boundary or furthered SF/F, it’s almost as though it would have to better than the previous year’s winner. While it would be fantastic if every year everything got even better, we know that is not the case. It would be extremely hard to follow up a year that had something truly groundbreaking.

            My take is that the Hugo is supposed to represent the best of that year. And if a given year simply didn’t have a lot of great works, that’s just how it goes. Now if all the nominees in a given year were truly poor, then of course the No Award could come out. But if they simply weren’t as good as the year before, then I’d vote for what I thought was the best of the bunch. To put something below No Award, I’d have to feel the work should never have even been nominated. But like I said, personal preference.

        • John says:

          Everything else they like is garbage?

          What an odd strawman.
          Nobody has said everything they like is garbage, and the results of the Hugos, with Three Body Problem and Guardians winning, clearly show that no, people don’t think everything they like is garbage.

          What the results of the voting, 3BP and GotG included, show very clearly? Is that *almost* everything the sadly rabids *nominated* was garbage.

          It’s far more likely that the No Award block simply didn’t bother with the dramatic presentation categories

          You should try reading what people actually said about the nominees and their plans to vote.

          • Eric says:

            Nobody has said everything they like is garbage

            Two examples out of the very small sample that is this page say every SP nominee they read was “awful,” “miserable,” and the “weakest [prose] in a decade or more.” If you want me to go out to the rest of the web I can find a whole lot more. Your assertion that it’s a strawman because no one argues it is false. Want to try again, Chief?

            And thanks, I have read a fair bit of what others have said about their voting plans. Shall I remind you of those that claimed they would vote strictly according to author’s politics?

            • John says:

              Try reading what I *actually* said.

              every SP nominee they read was “awful,” “miserable,” and the “weakest [prose] in a decade or more.”

              Yes. One more for you: the puppy-nominated works in the literary categories were mostly poorly written garbage. Almost all were crap, utterly unworthy of being considered for the awards, and yes, I read them, and ranked them. The best of the lot, like Totaled and Flow, were okay-but-unremarkable stories that wouldn’t have stood a chance against the works that were pushed off the ballot, or against the works in the same categories in years previous.

              And yet, that *still* isn’t the same as “everything they like is garbage”, and the wins by 3BP and Guardians, both liked by puppies, clearly show that voters as a whole don’t think everything puppies like is garbage.

              Are you seriously so bad at reading that you think “everything you NOMINATED in the LITERARY categories was trash” is the same thing as “everything you LIKE is garbage”? If so: I’m developing a theory about why you thought the puppyfic nominees were Hugo-worthy.

              In the mean time, puppies liked 3BP, and it won, clearly showing that the majority of voters don’t think everything the puppies like is garbage. Puppies like GotG, and it won, clearly showing that the majority of voters don’t think everything the puppies like is garbage. And No Award clearly beat the puppy fiction nominees, clearly showing that the majority of voters *do* think that the *nominated puppy works* were not worth award consideration.

              • Eric says:

                That’s not what you said? Um, would you care to read what I quoted of you before? “Nobody has said everything they [the Puppies] liked was garbage.” Lurker specifically said, “If the Puppy nominations were supposed to be about quality, they failed miserably.” Puppy nominations. That’s not qualified, so therefore it refers to the entire nominations. Here’s a post offering alternate lyrics to the Jonathan Coulton song “Code Monkey”

                Sad Puppy offer slate of garbage
                Bring you hate, bring you spite
                You say no thank you for the garbage cause
                Garbage pile of kack

                Irene Gallo of TOR said, “They’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible to works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

                All non-specific, referring to the entire slate. Not to mention Irene’s lies regarding “unrepentantly racist, misogynist, and homophobic.” Further, I’m not sure why she would insult her house’s own writers like that, or while calling their work bad-to-reprehensible. As creative director, isn’t it part of her job to make sure such horrible work doesn’t get published by them? But I digress.

                I’ve already discussed at length the details of 3BP and GotG on this page, if not in this exact thread ( which it seems you’ve ignored ), so I don’t intend to repeat myself here. Quite simply, an organic voting result would have more nominations above No Award, if not actually winning. If you haven’t examined the actual voting results, and not just the winners, I recommend you do so.

                • John says:

                  You still appear to be unclear about the difference between “everything the Sadly Rabids like is garbage” and “almost everything the Sadly Rabids nominated was garbage”, and I’m not sure how much more I can do to help you leap that comprehension gulf.

                  Clearly the first isn’t true – Sadly Rabids nominated Guardians, and it was good, and won. The head Sadly Rabid strongly endorsed The Three Body Problem, and it won (I wasn’t a big fan myself, but I can see why others were). And clearly the second one *is* true – you just have to read Turncoat of any of the Wright nominees or Wisdom From My Internet, which even the author himself insisted deserved to be voted below No Award, to see that.

                  Irene Gallo of TOR said, “They’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible to works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

                  The slate, and the reasoning behind the slate, and the vote-gathering methods, and the voting results, clearly show that to be true.

                  Not to mention Irene’s lies regarding “unrepentantly racist, misogynist, and homophobic.”

                  Yeah, you might want to take a closer look at your ringleaders and your most common nominees if you think that isn’t clearly a true opinion based on disclosed public facts.

                  (Hint: See that stilted phrase I just used? It means something beyond the literal words.)

                  Quite simply, an organic voting result would have more nominations above No Award

                  Clearly not true, unless you’d like to claim that the Hugo vote counting didn’t accurately count the Hugo votes, or that the Hugo voters weren’t individuals voting for the Hugos?

                  You can’t claim that the backlash against gaming the Hugos is invalid without also claiming that gaming the Hugos is invalid. And the fact that most of the works the Sadly Rabids nominated *were* complete crap and the best works they nominated were just kind of okay really helped that.

                  • Regarding the idea that an “organic voting result” would have more nominations above No Award:

                    The history of the Hugos show the opposite. The history of the Hugos show that a manipulated ballot tends to result in no award being given in a category so manipulated. There aren’t a large number of No Awards in the history of the awards because no one has been this brazenly domination-or-destruction manipulative before.

    • xServer says:

      Incorrect – some voters were people angry at co-opting of entire categories and some people were Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies whose stated purpose was burning everything down. And some were people like me who voted according to preference and found some categories lacking and honestly voted No Award at times.

  20. froborr says:

    Reblogged this on Jed A. Blue.

  21. Excellent discussion! But I think another point of disconnect, demonstrated in a comment above, is the Puppies’ inability to see promoting a full slate as a bad thing, that shuts out anyone not on it. If you can’t see that that’s an inherently unfair tactic, then you won’t be ale to understand why people would vote No Award in protest.

    • Jaron says:

      Then I’m sure you will condemn the slates and recommended lists that were openly shared in years past by Scalzi and others?

      • fozmeadows says:

        The Puppies were the first to use an actual slate; everyone prior to that made recommendations, or simple stated how they personally intended to vote. And as per your acknowledgement that ‘others’ did this – which is to say, many different people, all putting forward their own opinions with no expectation that anyone copy them – I fail to see how that constitutes a conspiracy.

        • Jaron says:

          You’re going to have to define what you consider an “actual slate” to continue this debate, and how the Puppies were so different and wrong in what they did compared to others in the past.

          Here is Brad’s official SP3 Slate post ( and yes, he did use that actual word “slate” ), emphasis mine.
          https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/sad-puppies-3-the-2015-hugo-slate/

          “After much combobulating, the official Sad Puppies 3 slate is assembled! As noted earlier in the year, THE SAD PUPPIES 3 LIST IS A RECOMMENDATION. NOT AN ABSOLUTE. Gathered here is the best list (WE THINK!) of entirely deserving works, writers, and editors — all of whom would not otherwise find themselves on the Hugo ballot without some extra oomph received from beyond the rarefied, insular halls of 21st century Worldcon “fandom.”

          If you agree with our slate below — and we suspect you might — this is YOUR chance to make sure YOUR voice is heard. This is YOUR award (as SF/F’s self-proclaimed “most prestigious award”) and YOU get to have a say in who is acknowledged.” ( capitalized “YOURS” are original, not emphasis. )

          Consider Scalzi himself called it “Award Pimpage” ( http://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/01/03/the-2008-award-pimpage-post/ )

          So author one says, “Hey, after a lot of deliberation and feedback, here’s a list of works I think are not only eligible, but deserving of an award and are quite likely to be overlooked. If you like my stuff, you might like these too, but of course it’s up to you.” Author two says, “Here’s a list of only my stuff that’s eligible for awards and I would appreciate it if you would nominate and vote for it.”

          So why is a recommended “slate” of other people’s works bad, but “pimping” out your own stuff acceptable? Are creators only allowed to campaign for their own works and not for those or others that they enjoy?

          • As I understand it, a large part of considering it an ‘actual slate’ is that there are no more than five entries suggested in any category, which means that if enough people voted for those same five suggested works, nothing else stands a chance.

            As we have now seen. As you yourself have noted, Three Body Problem only got on the ballot because Kloos and Correia declined.

            As far as Scalzi goes, all he said was “this is what I have that is eligible, please consider me”. He does not say “vote for me”, and he does not attempt to dominate any category.

            And, as much as Brad said “THIS IS A RECOMMENDATION”, he also rather heavily implied that if you agreed with him – and he thinks you might – you would vote as recommended.

            • Eric says:

              Except the slate only listed a full five suggestions in four categories and four suggestions in another six categories. Out of a total 85 possible nomination spots, SP only suggested 60. So there was no way their goal was to push everyone out of contention.

              As for TBP getting on the ballot, it’s a moot point. It would also have been there had Beale read it earlier in the year with the Rabid pull. And Marko could very well have stayed nominated had he not been on the Puppy slate. Using it as evidence that the Puppies were trying to shove out other good works is futile.

              You may choose to interpret Scalzi and Brad however you want, but unless you also claim to have telepathic powers, you cannot claim to know what Brad was or was not implying. It’s really ridiculous that you attribute that intention to just him and not both he and Scalzi. Is it not just as likely that Scalzi was saying that if you like him and agree with him – and he thinks you might since you’re on his web page – you would vote for him.

              • “Out of a total 85 possible nomination spots, SP only suggested 60. So there was no way their goal was to push everyone out of contention.”

                Only to push everyone out of the traditionally-important prose categories (novel, novella, novelette, short story, related work, fan writer). They succeeded in novella, short story, and related work, nearly succeeded in fan writer, and would have succeeded in novelette if not for an overlooked technicality (and dictated more than half of the novel slots before Marko Kloos withdrew). So they “only” sought complete domination-or-extirpation of 12 out of 15 categories.

                That’s not exactly the resounding acquittal it’s being portrayed as.

              • Ok, so you concede they didn’t plan to push EVERYONE out, they mostly focussed on just those categories? Glad we settled that.

                As for TBP, meh. Shoulda coulda woulda, if you’re gonna drag in every possible permutation.

                And for interpreting Brad and Scalzi, I stand by what I said. Scalzi may certainly have hoped that people might vote for SOMETHING he wrote, but that’s not the same as saying ‘these are the works we think you should vote for’.

          • Tasha Turner says:

            In Scalzi’s post he say’s this:

            So yes, please, do give my audio works consideration in these categories. And while you’re at it, give other audio works consideration in these categories as well. Fight the tyranny of film and television domination! Because you know what? There is some excellent work being done in audio science fiction these days, and it’s worth noting in the categories that they are eligible for. You don’t need to spend millions to have an excellent dramatic presentation.

            He suggest looking at other works and nominating them. I know in future years he asks authors & fans to suggests eligible works. I can’t tell if he did a later post that year as my iPad keeps crashing when viewing his site.

  22. Robin says:

    Well said.

  23. […] Equally problematic is that the frame of reference of people on one side is so utterly disjoint from the frame of reference of people on the other side, that a lot of our attempts to debate have merely resulted in us talking past each other. Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion. […]

  24. […] Meadows has a typically good response to the charges that “social justice warriors” are nominating books with […]

  25. Eric says:

    I can’t imagine why you think Brad or Larry don’t bother listening to you when you start off posts with such endearing lines like this:

    “[I]nasmuch as any of the Puppies can be said to have a reasonable concern at the bottom of all their rhetoric, which often comes off as little more than ‘we think books about people who aren’t straight white dudes are boring'”

    I know I sure love it when I take a lot of time, energy, and words to address problems I have experienced first-hand only to have someone immediately brush it aside, tell me I have no basis for any concern, and then proceed to make a completely illogical jump as to what they think I mean.

    The “we think books about people who aren’t straight white dudes are boring” line alone suggests you’ve never read in its entirety one of Brad’s, Larry’s, Sarah’s, or any puppy supporter’s posts about this. If that’s your takeaway, it sounds like your main exposure to the Puppies are the “articles” and “reports” of EW, io9, or The Guardian where they try their darndest to paint the puppies as nothing but whiny, racist, sexist, white men trying to promote only other whiny, racist, sexist white men, while doing no research at all. If you haven’t bothered getting any information straight from the Puppies’ side, then it’s no wonder that’s how you think they come off. Has every Puppy supporter acted completely innocent? Of course not. I would argue that they have received far less fair treatment from the media as a whole, however. And that you can’t spare any text for the malicious and libelous treatment they’ve received suggests to me that you aren’t interested in trying to cover this fairly.

    Your example of a “Sam” recommending a book has merit. However, it doesn’t address everything. You see, I don’t recommend a book to someone else if I don’t believe that overall it is well-written. It doesn’t matter how interesting the plot, settings, or characters are to me. If the prose is weak or clumsy, if I have to continually reinforce my suspension of disbelief, or if I find too many plot holes or logical fallacies, I don’t recommend the book to others. There is of course some fudge factor strength on one side can cover up weakness on another.

    If I had such a friend as Sam, one that I trusted to have good judgment on fiction, and he recommended a book to me, my first though would be, “He must think the book as a whole is well-written and worth my time.” The topic or genre of the book is irrelevant at this point. I value Sam’s opinion and Sam has recommended this book.

    Next step, if it was indeed a military SF, then yes, that adds some more weight to the recommendation. However, Sam’s fudge factor may well not be the same as mine. The added militaristic accuracy may have been enough to make up for other weaknesses in the book for Sam, but perhaps not for me. At the same time, I could also get a recommendation from another friend, one also with different military experience, that said the same book had inaccurate portrayals of the militaristic components. They could both be right and they could both be wrong. Just because someone has first-hand experience in one area of the military does not make them an expert in all aspects of it. Same goes for many other things.

    Larry has offered one bit of advice to potential writers countless times: write what you like and what makes sense. Neither he or the puppies are saying that different aspects of identity are unimportant. They’re saying that those aspects that don’t impact the story are unimportant to share. Yes, a queer person will have different life experiences and views than a straight person. Hell, even two queer people will have different experiences.

    The important question is how those experiences are relevant to the story being told. If there’s no romance in the book, then mentioning sexual orientation is pretty much throwaway and doesn’t matter – unless you somehow manage to have sexual orientation impact someone’s ability to fight, talk to others, ride a horse, fly a ship, lead a group of people, or other very unlikely link. Similar can be said of most identity aspects. It’s actually possible to write a whole story with no character descriptions of any kind. Using mainly dialogue and action, you wouldn’t even need pronouns if you always used character names. Bottom line, throwing in diversity just so you’re seen as diverse weakens your work. If it makes sense for the character to have certain traits, then throw it in and make it meaningful. Otherwise, it more than likely can be left out.

    Similar can also be said about espousing certain messages in your fiction. You can absolutely have your story be about a specific message, but if you don’t do it right it just comes off as preachy. It takes a lot of skill to add a moral throughout a book without it getting heavy handed. This is what the Sad Puppies complain about, that many lauded books and stories today feel like you’re beaten over the head with a 10 lbs maul instead of a subtle allegory woven through a great story. Plenty are guilty of this on both Left and Right side of the aisle. And yes, it will likely be more obvious if you’re reading something from the side opposite to you. If it’s not key to the actual story, then leaving it out is a good idea.

    My take on this is that you’re saying, at worst, all people from a given classification will have the same or similar outlook, or at best, that all other things being equal, a work with a “diverse” cast is preferable to one without. I do not hold to either. Even if the white male has been the “standard” character for years, it sounds as though you see that as bland and obvious and often cookie-cutter. That suggests to me that the idea of a white male has been stereotyped and thus is still wide open for exploration and other depths can be presented.

    • Joel Salomon says:

      I’m not sure, Eric, that this post was aimed at us on the Sad Puppies side of fandom so much as doing a reasonable job toward explaining our view to this blog’s readership—and it was very nearly a sympathetic portrayal. Tensions are running a little high to expect anyone to write, aimed at his own audience, a post the “other side” would feel entirely comfortable with.

      But try to pick out the actual argument: it’s almost as if we’re speaking different languages, and this post seems to point towards the gulf between fandoms in a useful sense. A translation might be helpful, though I haven’t the skill for the job.

      (It’s not all language, of course: there are parts of our word-views which the language changes only reflect and which each find morally abhorrent in the other. But as Toni Weisskopf suggested, “You don’t get a conversation with only one opinion, you get a speech, lecture or soliloquy.” There is this thing we all like, and we ought to find a way to coexist well enough to maintain it.)

  26. Joel Salomon says:

    Someone linked to this post over at Brad Togersen’s blog and recommended it as useful in explaining the disconnect between out world-views, and he was right: this definitely is something I’ll be keeping in mind.

    I wonder, though, if this might be testable. Take, for instance, Sarah Hoyt’s A Few Good Men. I’ve only ever as a joke described it as a story built around a gay romance, and that’s not an element most Baen-ish reviwers would focus on, but it is a true description of the book. Assuming that the book does portray its characters plausibly (I want a better word than that, but it’s a bit late for me)—which others can judge better than I—compare the book’s blurb to what it would look like had Mrs. Hoyt marketed it to “your” wing of fandom.

    I’ve tried to go the other way, describing Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch books to folks to whom “has an altered view on gender” is neither meaningful, nor sought-after, nor (in a genre context) much more remarkable than earlier experiments in its vein: I spoke about identity, about a distributed intelligence fractured, about an AI in a human body, and the “gender gimmick” became just another bit of world-building. I was able to reread and enjoy Ancillary Justice much more after that exercise, and push through Ancillary Sword when I couldn’t before. (I really hope that was middle-book syndrome and that Ancillary Mercy will be better.) So I know that direction is possible, at least sometimes.

    But when one of the “Baen” wing of the genre writes a minority character, are they doing it “wrong” (as you would see it), or are they simply describing the end result that much differently?

    • fozmeadows says:

      Not having read Hoyt’s work, I can’t comment on that specific example. Certainly, I’m not going to claim that Baen authors can’t write diverse or minority characters plausibly; that would be an absurd generalisation, and in any case, one of my favourite authors (Bujold) is published by Baen. Nor do I think there’s something inherently wrong with focussing a review on those elements of a story that you most enjoyed, or which spoke to you personally, to the exclusion of what didn’t – reviews are, after all, an expression of the writer’s preferences.

      But when you refer to gender as a gimmick – that, I think, is where the viewpoints diverge. From the perspective of someone like me, who is queer, and who loves reading narratives that deliberately fuck with gender, it makes as much sense to call that aspect of the Ancillary series a ‘gimmick’ as it would to you if I were to say that straight white male leads in other books are ‘gimmicky’. Which is to say: there is a difference between an author writing about something which interests them personally, and an author making a choice which doesn’t interest *you* personally.

      Look at it this way: everything an author does is ultimately intended to attract and hold the interest of their audience, because that’s the whole point of writing in the first place. That being so, it doesn’t seem accurate to define ‘gimmick’ as any attempt at doing this that doesn’t work for a particular reader, as the term implies, among other things, that the author was never sincere or dedicated to their usage of whatever it was in the first place, which is manifestly not the case here. The fact that someone can point at it and say, ‘oh, that’s clearly meant to attract X kind of audience’ doesn’t make something a gimmick – it just means the writer is writing for a particular set of people which, in that respect, doesn’t necessarily include the person making the judgement. Does that make sense?

      • esteefee says:

        Hell, yes, that makes sense. Maybe this entire rift can be summed up with “Not all books are for everyone.” And if that’s a problem, well, then so be it. The market can decide. As long as the nomination rules are amended.

      • Joel Salomon says:

        What you’re saying does make sense. And I tried to indicate that I wasn’t calling Ms. Leckie’s word choice a gimmick myself—I don’t pretend to know how she intended it—but was pitching the book to those who would read it that way. And perhaps some of the difference in perception of quality comes from there: evaluating the books on world-building, characterization, and plot only, they were merely decent efforts.

        (Writing as a member of a socially-respected minority whose media representation is nonetheless unrecognizable, I can almost-but-not-quite see how good representation feels like an important measure of quality that it has equal weight with setting, character, & plot. You say it’s so for you I can believe it—but I don’t get it.)

        Not knowing your general taste in the genre I have no idea whether you’ll like A Few Good Men as a story, but would suggest you read it and offer your opinion on how it handled representation.

        • fozmeadows says:

          I think we’ve hit on another point of divergence: for me, it’s not that gender is a separate category to plot, characterisation, worldbuilding – it’s that I and others consider it an integral aspect of all three. If someone writes a story with no women in it and no explanation as to why, for me, that’s a failure of worldbuilding, because ladies are half the population – so where are they? If someone writes a story where all the people of colour are stereotyped, that’s a failure of characterisation, not a secondary matter to how everyone else (that is, the white people) are portrayed. If someone writes a story set 1000 years in the future, but a major plot point involves a taboo about (for instance) homosexuality and this is portrayed as a universal human norm, instead of being explicitly contextualised as a facet of that specific culture, that’s a failure of plot and worldbuilding both, because the writer hasn’t bothered to think fully about the culture they’re creating and so has hung the story on something the rest of the plot doesn’t support.

          Do you see where I’m coming from?

          • Joel Salomon says:

            Perhaps not so much a point of divergence as poor word choice on my part. I (think I) get what you mean by representation being part of world & character & plot. But “representation” was not the right word to use for that aspect of Radch culture—ungendered language and unsexed behavour so that an AI gets into social trouble outside its own culture—which was so exciting and important to some reviewers that it outweighed weaknesses in the plot and pacing, but was just another bit of the scenery to readers like me.

            • fozmeadows says:

              Which is where taste comes into it; because gender elements aside, I didn’t think the book was weak in the ways you did. I thought it was consistently well-written and well-paced, and just generally awesome. Which isn’t to say that everyone who likes the gender aspects had the same opinion, but, well, that’s the point – it’s an individual thing. Lots of people can like or dislike something for many different reasons, but there’s this miscommunication right now over diversity where some people see Ancillary getting praised for the gender elements and, based on the fact that *they* didn’t think the rest was too hot, assume that gender is the *only* thing its advocates like about it, instead of being one factor among many. To me, the gender doesn’t compensate for weakness in the rest of the book; it’s one of several elements which I thought were equally strong.

              • Eric says:

                Foz, this thread has explained more to me about what I think you meant to say in the article than the article itself. I agree with you when you say certain parts of identity are a part of characterizations and worldbuilding. I believe you to mean the same as I do when I said that if you include something in the story, it needs to be woven throughout and make sense to be there and preferably to be used. Like you said, if you change a big element, you need to give thought to why.

                My idea of a “gimmick” would be something that is included in the story ( likely a divergent concept referred to a few times ) but never becomes meaningful in terms of the story, setting, or characterization. Continuing on the topic of gender and queerness, a woman/queer/trans protagonist that only has the most brief references to her/his/its trait in throwaway manners makes me wonder why it is there.

                I fully agree with you that different people will have different reasons for adding such a thing. Some times for no other reason to the author than that feels right for that character at time of conception. And of course you have varying skills of authors to present it and varying skills of readers to pick up on it.

                As Joel remarked, if the reader is having a hard time finding why that trait is in there, especially if they’re finding other flaws in the work, I think it reasonable to consider it as a gimmick. It’s only there to get attention. And this of course can be any number of things. Why is the protagonist trans? Why is main things about guns and explosions? Why is the secondary female protagonist perfectly voluptuous? All of these used well can be meaningful. All of them used poorly can be gimmicks.

                Then of course is the question of what the author intended. Was it really there just to try to nab attention? Is the author trying to pander to people not immediately inclined to try the author’s work? Was it a genuine attempt that was executed poorly? Or was there something underneath that I didn’t quite grasp? I’m a subscriber to the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” philosophy, which is why I often say if something, anything, isn’t critical to the story, it’s often best to leave it out. I think many people get overly critical about things that are left out or aren’t explicitly presented ( myself included at times ), and so miss searching for a reason of why it was left out.

                An important thing to remember is that the folly can be on anyone’s side. Speaking generalistically ( and not directly to you, Foz ), if you’ll forgive others for maybe not fully “getting” the minutiae of a queer book and them thinking that’s the only reason it gets attention, I’m sure they can forgive you for thinking the only reason they like a book is because of the buxom bimbos and big guns on the cover.

                Cheers.

                • fozmeadows says:

                  But have you ever asked why a character is male, or straight, or white? Have you ever considered that there needs to be a reason for a character to be male the same way you seem to think they need a reason to be trans? Because when you talk about such qualities needing a reason to be justified, that only works if you have a norm against which you’re measuring them; a set of qualities whose presence you don’t question compared to those you do.

                  And that is exactly what I’m talking about.

                  • Eric says:

                    Actually that’s incorrect. You don’t need some kind of norm in order to question the “why” of anything. You can just as easily have no default. I’m not asking why something is different than an arbitrary norm. I’m asking why something is the way it is at all. Period. I hope you can appreciate the difference. And I ask that about elements of setting and plot, not just characterization.

                    Now, have I ever questioned why a character is a white male? Do you mean at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the book? The difference matters. At the beginning of a story, the reader has no knowledge of the setting or characters or anything. Therefore they have no expectation as to what makes sense or not in that reality. By the middle they should have some knowledge of what is sensible in that world or not. By the end of course you can examine all sorts of things from a critical and deconstructive viewpoint. I’m guessing you mean have I ever questioned why a character is a white male when he is introduced at the beginning of a book. No, I don’t believe I have.

                    Before you start your celebratory dance, know that I don’t believe I’ve ever questioned why a character is a woman, either. Nor if they were Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Sikh, atheist, agnostic, hetero, homo, bi, asexual, queer, androgynous, white, black, brown, tan, yellow, mauve, chartreuse. I know that sounds contradictory after what I said about asking why things matter. That’s because those are questions the author should ask themselves from the beginning when writing. The reader doesn’t know the questions to even ask until they’ve gone past the story’s hook.

                    I believe I’ve been very careful to not mention anything about cultural or personal norms here in terms of gender, sexual orientation, or skin color. That you’re applying such to me makes me believe you’re approaching my words with unfair and untrue preconceived notions about me. As though you automatically assume Puppy supporters are stuck in an archaic, misogynistic, and homophobic world and don’t know it. You’re trying to tell one side that they need to change their default view on something to match yours. However you’re not giving them the same courtesy and trying to understand things from their perspective.

                    And that is exactly what I am talking about.

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      No, Eric. What I’m saying is this: that you shouldn’t require a narrative justification in order to accept the existence of stories about people *who actually exist*. Asking ‘why is this character female?’ makes as much sense as asking ‘why is my coworker female?’. Answer: because some people JUST ARE, and they get to have stories told about them, even if those stories aren’t about their identities. There doesn’t need to be a plot-specific reason to mention that a protagonist is queer or trans beyond the fact that this is the person the story happens to be about. It’s not a gimmick; it’s basic recognition of the fact that lots of different kinds of people exist. We shouldn’t have to justify our presence to you. THAT’S the argument.

                    • Eric says:

                      Oh, for the love of . . . Once again you ignore what I’ve actually written and somehow substitute what you want, or expect, me to. The sad thing is I can’t tell if you’re doing it ignorantly through poor reading and critical analysis, intentionally to make me look bad, or blinded by rage because you simply expect all Puppies and Puppy supporters to be raving, sexist, racist homophobes. If the first, you demonstrate an inability to comprehend and interpret. If the second, you’re simply a liar and manipulator. If the last you’re letting emotion and presuppositions cloud your judgment. All of these call into question your credentials and authority in trying call me out for anything on this page.

                      Show me one place, even one, where I said to always question why a character is female but never to question why one is male. Show me one place where I said certain people don’t deserve to have stories told about them. Do you not understand the meaning of “all” or “anything” or “everything”? That you can’t see “straight white male” is included in “everything” means you have blinded yourself. If you’re going to tell people to always question why a character is male, it’s only fair of you to expect they would always question why a character is female. Whether I question everything about every character, or nothing about every character, I have dealt fairly with all the material to grace my reading shelf.

                      Dumbledore was gay the entire Harry Potter series, yet it never explicitly says so. You’re not even given an inkling of it until book 7. Why? Because it had absolutely no bearing on the story. The only reason anyone knows for certain is because of Rowling’s Q&A after all the books had been published. She felt it wasn’t a relevant detail to the story, which is why she didn’t tell anyone sooner. Whether best friends or lovers, Albus still feels incredibly betrayed by Grindelwald. The revelation of this detail didn’t suddenly and retroactively makes the books better or worse since it doesn’t change any of the actual text. However, just because it wasn’t implicit or explicit that a main character was gay doesn’t mean the book series didn’t have a gay character. So please tell me how I’m wrong in saying you don’t need to reveal every detail about every character if it doesn’t matter to the story.

                      Let’s continue with Harry Potter. What religion was everyone? If judging by the text alone, we don’t know. The school had Sunday off, not to mention Christmas and Easter breaks. Being as it takes place in England, you could of course assume most of them were Catholic or in the Church of England. Of course it’d be preposterous to assume everyone was. And it’s perfectly reasonable some of them might be of completely different religions or completely irreligious. There’s never any mention of someone attending a service at church cathedral, synagogue, or mosque. Frankly, you don’t know for certain on any of them. Once again, because it makes no difference to the story. Need I go on with this?

                      What you’re doing here is a great example of putting personal identity ahead of story. You’re spending more time trying to divide, classify, and label the facets of a character than you are of examining their importance and impact. And this is what the Puppy side doesn’t understand: what is this fascination with making sure everything is so explicitly labeled? You’re basically saying a person’s traits don’t count unless they are fully, explicitly, and publicly stated. I’ll leave you to consider the impact of that.

                      You know relatively nothing about me. Right here, right now, no searching, what traits do you know about me? Do you know my skin color? Eye color? Hair color? Height? Weight? Measurements? Cultural descent? Religious beliefs, or lack thereof? However just because you don’t know those tidbits, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Bottom line, just because you aren’t explicitly told a character is male, female, straight, gay, queer, or bi does not mean the story doesn’t have any male, female, straight, gay, queer, or bi characters. More than likely the author has already fleshed out those details but omitted them from the page because they weren’t deemed relevant.

                      It is obvious you are feeling personally threatened ( note the use of the inclusive “we” in your penultimate sentence of the last reply ). Meaning the very idea of someone questioning the significance of why an arbitrary fictional character happens to be a queer female is anathema to you. Do you ever question why a character is a queer female in a story? Do you not see you’re making your own norm that of female and queer? I’m not sure why you think a reader performing their own critical analysis and deconstruction on a random work of fiction constitutes a personal attack on your existence or chosen lifestyle. Even if it were true, I would ask you to attempt to see it in reverse, meaning you are attacking the existence of straight white males. I’m sure you can see how ridiculous both sound.

                      I am not asking, nor have I ever asked, for you or anyone to justify their existence to me. I am recommending authors take significant thought to each aspect of their characters, story, and setting, such that they make each realistic, sensible, and meaningful. Treat them like spices when cooking, and remember some spices are much stronger than others. If a detail isn’t relevant, it’s usually best to leave it out. Throwing it around in an attempt for a little extra flavor can often result in something overpowering the rest of your work.

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      You’re reading an enormous amount of aggression and hyperbole on my part into a very brief response. I’m trying to make this as simple as I can, and you keep determinedly veering off into other directions. But look. I’m going to make one more attempt. You’ve said:

                      “Show me one place, even one, where I said to always question why a character is female but never to question why one is male.”

                      To which I say: I never accused you of saying this. You’re responding to an argument I didn’t make. Hell, I didn’t even use the words male or always anywhere in the previous comment, which suggests to me that you didn’t read it very clearly.

                      Using Harry Potter as an example, you’ve said that the characters are never described as attending religious services “because it makes no difference to the story.” Here, you’re hitting closer to the point, but still missing it. No, the plot of Harry Potter doesn’t materially change if it’s mentioned in passing that Neville is Catholic (for instance), but nor would that information worsen the story, either. What it would do, rather, is add another dimension to his character for readers to interpret; and for readers who are themselves Catholic, that detail could prove deeply meaningful indeed, even if you personally weren’t moved by it one way or the other. I’ve never said a person’s traits don’t matter unless they’re explicitly stated; hell, if you go read through the rest of this blog, you’ll find an enormous amount of meta-analysis of various films and TV shows to prove I’m 1000% willing to invest in subtext as reality, and to make my own interpretations of the story based on the characterisation alone.

                      But here’s what you’re missing: specific representation is still important to readers, and therefore to their perception of a particular story. A tiny detail made explicit or otherwise built into the characterisation with no purpose other than that the author envisioned their protagonist that way can have all the significance in the world. The fact that it doesn’t change a given plot if Character A is black or white doesn’t mean it’s a meaningless choice. The whole point of this argument is that individual stories exist in a wider cultural context: one where, overwhelmingly, certain types of people are grossly underrepresented in narrative. And if, as you say, including such details doesn’t change the story, then why does their presence matter? As I’ve already said, quite clearly, I’m not interested in diversity that’s divorced from quality, so it’s not like I’m arguing for the creation of more stories that are worse – just morestories that are different, even if only in small ways.

                      Now, here is something that J. K. Rowling does do in the course of Harry Potter: she describes the colour and texture of the characters’ hair. Does that information, as you have it, “make a difference to the story”? In terms of the macro – the overarching plot – it makes no difference whatsoever. But on the micro level, in terms of helping us visualise and relate to the characters, it has a small but meaningful impact. I guarantee you there were little redheaded kids who felt closer to Ron because they shared his hair, just as there are girls who related to Hermione for the same reason. Apply that to people who seldom if ever see themselves represented in stories, except in highly stereotyped and often awful ways – to trans individuals, for instance – and you can see why this inclusion is important.

                      You said of character traits: “Treat them like spices when cooking, and remember some spices are much stronger than others. If a detail isn’t relevant, it’s usually best to leave it out. Throwing it around in an attempt for a little extra flavor can often result in something overpowering the rest of your work.”

                      Take a look at what you’re saying here: that some types of characters – some details of characterisation – should be used more sparingly than others. That if it isn’t “relevant” that a character be X, there’s no point in mentioning it at all. But if it’s a small detail that doesn’t otherwise impact the plot, but simply provides a greater insight into the character, why is that irrelevant? Why isn’t characterisation relevant in its own right? This is what I mean when I say you’re asking certain characters to justify themselves – you’re arguing that certain facets of a character, like their queerness or maleness, can “overpower” the story to its material detriment, but you’re not saying how this happens. You’re assuming authors only include these details as a spice, rather than as something important, because you don’t see the relevance, but that doesn’t mean there is none to be had; only that it’s not necessarily meant for you.

                      Here are the claims I’m making: that diverse representation in stories is good for readers and our culture alike; that this diversity hasn’t, historically speaking, been given much emphasis, to our cultural detriment; that, even so, diversity without quality is meaningless; and that, because diverse stories are still the minority, there’s a great deal of originality and innovation to be had in writing them, because they encompass perspectives we haven’t often seen before. What about this argument is so objectionable?

                    • Eric says:

                      If you don’t want others reading aggression in your words, then I would recommend you not put words in their mouths in making absurd claims they never said, e.g. “We shouldn’t have to justify our presence to you.” Most people take others lying about them to be offensive, insulting, and aggressive. You’re responsible for your words, and I recommend you consider that you should not only try to be clear enough that you’re understood, but that you’re clear enough so as not to be misunderstood.

                      I get it. I really do. You’re asking others to question why a character happens to be of the norm that you claim, or close to the norm, of white, male, and straight. Further, you’re asking those on the Puppies side to reflect that they might be missing something in a story that they consider to be “message fiction.” It might have some je ne sais quoi that resonates with other people but not them. Those details they think are just pandering to “diversity” might actually have some nuggets that a lot of people honestly appreciate.

                      And other innocuous details like hair and eye color ( which I never said must be omitted, only that they can without affecting the actual story ) are exactly like salt and pepper in my cooking analogy. They can be used just about anywhere with no harm, and so can other character details. If you’re just meaning them to be flavor on the side, then as someone said above, it’s the difference between “X Super Hero” and “Super Hero who happens to be X.”

                      What I’m asking is that you apply those requests universally, including yourself. You’re asking the Puppy side to give you some extra consideration. Is it not equitable for you to give them some extra consideration as well? If, as you say, people like to see themselves represented in fiction, then that means straight, white males like to see that as well. Remember that the majority of the native English speakers happen to be white. I imagine a lot of Chinese fiction has Chinese characters as the “norm.” I’m the “other” to them ( and to a lot of people ), but I do not take offense in not being represented in their works. So is it too much to ask that you don’t automatically assume just because a protagonist is white means the book is prejudiced to minorities or that the author put little thought into the characters? Is it too much to ask of you to give a book the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume a popular work with muscled men, scantily clad women, and big explosions on the cover has nothing to offer? Most authors have little control over cover art anyway. And just as the “message fiction” books you like might have gems that only you appreciate, those “popular pulp” books might have some hidden depths that you’re missing.

                      If you can’t recognize the reverse ( inverse? ) of your argument, then you’re asking others to give you special treatment and consideration that you are not willing to give them. And that would make you a very big hypocrite.

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      This is my last reply to you, because your reading comprehension is so demonstrably poor: you’ve asserted I’ve made multiple arguments that are nowhere near what I’ve actually written, then blamed your false perception on me. Me saying “we shouldn’t have to justify our presence to you” isn’t putting words in your mouth; it’s a statement that can stand on its own, as an expression of my opinion sans reliance on yours. You saying “Show me one place, even one, where I said to always question why a character is female but never to question why one is male”, however, when – as already stated – I didn’t even use the WORDS ‘always’ and ‘male’ is you putting words in my mouth. You seemingly have an idea in your head about you think I’m “really” saying and are responding to that, rather than my actual comments, which is – ironically – exactly the kind of problem this entire post was originally meant to address.

                      So, for the record, again: I’ve said multiple times that just having straight white male characters doesn’t make a story bad, and if you look at my blog – at the lengthy metas I write about shows I love that are SWM-heavy, like Supernatural and Teen Wolf – you’ll see I do see an immense amount of value in many such narratives. I don’t assume white protagonist = bad story, nor have I ever claimed to dislike pulp. Loving the positives of a medium doesn’t preclude criticising it on other respects. I can love Supernatural to bits while still criticising its treatment of women, just as I can love SFF as a genre while still asking that we have more diverse representation.

  27. Peter O says:

    I’m generally in agreement with Joel above in that it is definitely the “sales pitch” that is leaving me cold on many of the books. Super hero that happens to be X is much more likely to be in my interest than X Super Hero. I’ve found some stories I’ve enjoyed from stuff like “Best Black fiction” lists (Tobias Bucknel’s Ragamuffin series, for instance) or “the best LGBTQ writers” lists. But in my case I think it’s also I’ve gotten a reflex to certain pitches after bad editorials & the books they recommend.

    After getting sucked into reading some of the “Stop reading White Males” articles (and yes,that was an actual post title) and some of the others that focus on only reading non-cis/non-white authors. I’ve gotten a jaundiced eye towards the books listed in those articles and towards the descriptions used even when writers like you use them only in a positive, not an exclusionary manner. When the books being praised the most are ones I recognized as the books I didn’t enjoy from the earlier lists, and are being praised using certain phrases, I started taking those phrases as signaling. “Here’s something you won’t enjoy.” And so when something new comes out and is being praised in that manner, I’ve taken to skipping it.

    Probably the best example I can give is how I heard about Ancillary Justice vs Goblin Emperor. AJ, I kept hearing about ‘the All-female gender expression and her problems navigating other societies’. GE, it was about ‘the unwanted half-blood suddenly thrust into the throne’. Both have a conflict involving not knowing the social rules of where they suddenly are. But only GE tells me why this is important to the plot, and interested me enough to pick up the book.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Look at it this way: the more normative diverse stories become, the less likely it is a pitch or review will hinge on the mere novelty of their existence. After being so long elided, you can hardly blame some of us for compensating with a sudden surfeit of enthusiasm when we finally get a visible seat at the table.

    • jestersarmed says:

      I’m sorry, you missed out on AJ solely because of having developed a “Stop reading White Males” trigger.

      Personally, I can only recommend, you get your reviews on books from strangehorizons.com where people actually write indepth analyses of the books they review. Here, the reason for the female-pronouns are given as:

      “What’s interesting about this agendered society, as a worldbuilding device, is that there is a pretty clear sociological reason for it, and it makes sense for the Radchaai to work this way. It would have been imposed from the top down by Anaander Mianaai, because it utterly distinguishes the Radch from their neighbors, to the point where non-Radch can identify Radchaai nationals by their misgendering-in-foreign-languages problems. It is part of what keeps the Radch sphere a cultural polity, what makes them one unified thing. Seen that way, this element, which can be seen as utopian by the standards of the book’s audience, is also and additionally another aspect of the unrelenting dystopian control. This kind of ambiguity, in which both the pleasant and unpleasant attributes of something are not only present, but present in ways which reflect history and culture and the ways people change over time, is one of the things which makes this book so astonishing for a debut novel. ”

      Which is a completely different barrel of fish.

  28. Dana says:

    Fascinating post and discussion. Thank you for the patience you are showing in explaining this to some commenters. You are amazing.

  29. […] The post I want to draw your attention to today, however, is from Foz Meadows, who writes about peeling an “onion argument”. […]

  30. […] Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion. “When it comes to debating strangers with radically different perspectives, you sometimes encounter what I refer to as Onion Arguments: seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail.” […]

  31. The audience was instructed not to boo because that is exceptionally bad decorum for an award voted on by the fans, for the fans. And everyone who was involved with the voting has indicated that the purpose of the multiple “No Awards” this year – as for every time Noah Ward has gone home with his rocket in the past – was to send the message that bloc voting would not be rewarded.

    The self-centered narrative of “No Award was given because the SJWs couldn’t stand the idea of being shown up” makes no sense at all in light of the history of the Hugos.

  32. JT says:

    Excellent essay! Well-argued (without being argumentative!) and clear. I hope that the plethora of No Awards will be cathartic and allow people to think and discuss these topics more rationally. Of course, this is the internet, so that probably won’t happen! Still, great work!

  33. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THIS. I am infuriated that you had to sit down and explain this so thoroughly and so simply and so neutrally because there are people in this world who think diversity is a zero-sum game, but I am very glad that you did. THANK YOU.

  34. […] Foz Meadows – “Hugos & Puppies: Peeling the Onion” is probably my favorite thing I’ve read about the issue since the awards, although I do think that Meadows’ sense-making will be largely lost on the Puppy crowd. […]

  35. […] Foz Meadows breaks down why diversity in sf is necessary in excruciating detail so the rest of us do…. If you read one Hugo post today, make it this one. […]

    • Mark says:

      I can’t speak for the Puppies, but I think some onion peeling needs to be done on what the valuable part of traditional SF is as well. To me, it’s all about the sense of conceptual breakthrough or sense of wonder that pretty much only comes out of SF. To some others, even in this comment thread, it’s about exploration of the human condition. That aspect is certainly a time-honored part of the genre, but it’s also something that isn’t really unique to SF. The way I’m reading this push for diversity is that we’re getting a lot of stories about… the human condition. In other words, the things unique to SF are being pushed to the background in favor of things that are explored frequently in other forms of artistic expression. I think this is why we see some hostility to more literary modes of writing in the genre. It’s not explicitly political, but the political manifests as a symptom of this.

      For instance, Golden Age SF is not really known for great characters or stylistic prose, but it had great ideas. It was written by people doing actual science and concerned itself with popularizing a rational view of the universe and imbuing the reader with a sense of wonder. Authors like Clarke and Asimov were not good prose stylists and wrote generally flat characters, but they wrote great SF because they were able to get at that sensawunda and they told a competent story which affirmed a rational view of the universe and provided the reader with a sense of conceptual breakthrough, of understanding things in a new way.

      To apply this to, say, last year’s ballot, let’s look closely at a few stories. Puppy complaints notwithstanding, The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere actually does sorta attempt to engage with the speculative elements unique to SF. There’s an actual narrative, there’s some interesting consequences to the farcical conceit of water falling (i.e. people wording statements as questions to avoid getting doused) and even a clever reversal (the mother’s suggestion based on the son’s occupation). To my mind, the balance is way more on the “exploration of the human condition” side of the story, but it at least engaged with what makes SF great (not that I didn’t want more of that: seriously, what kind of mold-fighting technology would be developed in such a world? Or did they simply work on super absorbent or quick dry fabrics? Working the answers to those questions into the story would make it considerably less literary, but a lot more interesting to a certain type of SF fan…). Other entries on the Short Story ballot (all featuring some form of LGBT character, if I remember correctly) didn’t really engage in that way.

      Let’s look at a novella from the same year: Wakulla Springs. There’s nothing even remotely SF about this story. Even in terms of Fantasy, it’s pretty scarce (a few sentences describing what is probably a dream at the end of the story). It’s all human condition, no sensawunda. No plot, no real fantastical elements, no conceptual breakthrough, just a few slices of historical life. It’s extremely well written and worthwhile, but I think it’s pretty easy to see why people would read this story and assume that the only reason it made the Hugo ballot is that it’s about PoC. If this is SF/F, than almost anything ever written can be SF/F.

      Ancillary Justice had a heady mix of sensawunda (hive minds, etc…) and human condition (again, Puppies hated this one, I think based on plot deficiencies, but to me, there’s enough to engage with there). Ancillary Sword did not – it was all human condition.

      Puppy nominees this year fall on a similar spectrum, which I find amusing. The Parliament of Beasts and Birds was a ridiculous nominee for SF (marginally less so for Fantasy, I guess, but held no real speculative elements), Totaled was more of a sensawunda exercise. The Triple Sun had some neat twists. The Journeyman was more human condition (I think? Yeesh, that was a forgettable one.)

      Well, I wrote more than expected here and don’t know if I’m being articulate enough, but I have to go now! The thrust I’m getting at here, is that I don’t think diversity helps or hurts by default, but a lack of sensawunda absolutely does hurt (and yes, there’s a matter of taste there too – some people find, for example, the pronoun thing in Ancillary Justice or Scalzi’s protagonist in Lock In not having a specified gender to be mindblowing, fair enough!) Again, can’t speak for Puppies here, but it might be worth thinking about other onions, if you catch my drift🙂

  36. Jimbo says:

    It’s been a while, but the overwhelming impression I got from Larry Correia’s original essay on this topic was that his reaction, at least, was motivated by the conviction that there was no way the book that beat his could have done so on the merits.

    Which is entirely consistent with a privileged mindset.

  37. […] Which is exactly what gets called affirmative-action “box checking” when the protagonist is female, non-white, queer or some combination of those. Often, particularly when Puppy advocates are writing, when readers derive pleasure from seeing themselves in those protagonists, they are accused of favoring representation over quality, even though representation can be a marker of quality. […]

  38. […] already discussed, at length, the dissonance between how recommendations made on the basis of diversity can appear to others and …, I won’t revisit the details here. The salient point, however, is this: once you acknowledge […]

  39. […] already discussed, at length, the dissonance between how recommendations made on the basis of diversity can appear to others …, I won’t revisit the details here. The salient point, however, is this: once you acknowledge […]

  40. […] Which reminded me of Foz Meadow’s excellent description of a “onion arguments” which she has referenced a few times, including in her post last year, Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion: […]

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