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Return of the Puppies

By / March 23, 2016 / no comments

As the deadline approaches for this year’s Hugo Award nominations, the Sad Puppies have once more stirred themselves. But this year, things are different.

In what is, I am sure, an attempt to step away from the toxic brand they had become, they have not produced a slate, but rather a list of recommendations. In most of the categories, there are 10 recommendations, twice the number that would appear on the actual shortlist. That alone, I suspect, will dilute the effect they are likely to have upon the nomination process.

But it is when you look at the details of their recommendations that things become rather strange.

Okay, the novel recommendations contain the names that previous Puppies lists would lead us to expect: John C. Wright, Larry Correia, John Ringo, Michael Z. Williamson, Jim Butcher. So far, so predictable. But they also recommend Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, exactly the sort of book they have previously been protesting against. Not only that, but apparently the entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett received enough votes to have made the top ten if they hadn’t limited the list to novels alone. If I’m not mistaken, the mischievous liberalism that Pratchett espoused throughout his career is the very epitome of the so-called Social Justice Warrior that the Puppies always said they were against.

But it’s when you look further down the lists that you start to realise how much the ideological purity of the Puppies has been compromised by this exercise.

Let’s just take the Best Novella recommendations for an example. Of the seven works listed here, only “Perfect State” by Brandon Sanderson fits comfortably within the ideological parameters of previous Sad Puppies lists. But the list is topped by Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti“. Now this is a novella that has been attracting universal praise, it has topped every list of Hugo recommendations that I have seen, and frankly if it doesn’t make the actual shortlist I would be astounded. But it is by a liberal, black, woman writer, it uses literary techniques and espouses ideals that would have been anathema to the Sad Puppies of previous years. And that’s not even the most surprising work on the list, because they also recommend “The End of All Things 1: The Life of the Mind” by John Scalzi (apparently oblivious to the fact that Scalzi has publicly and repeatedly declared that he does not want any of his works nominated for any awards this year). Now, only a few months ago the Puppies were declaring that Scalzi was the closest living relative to Satan, he was the arch SJW, the representative of everything that was wrong with science fiction, the very thing that the Sad Puppies had been set up to combat. If the Sad Puppies are now recommending that you vote for Scalzi, then there is something very wrong in the kingdom of Sad Puppies.

Just look through the list, you’ll see numerous examples of recommendations that stand directly counter to everything the Sad Puppies are supposed to represent. This list isn’t a continuation of the Sad Puppies campaign, it’s a capitulation.

And it’s not just a list that compromises everything the Sad Puppies were supposed to represent; it’s also a list that displays surprising ignorance of the rules of the Hugo Awards.

For example, take a look at the recommendations for the John W. Campbell award for new writer (not strictly a Hugo, but it’s all part and parcel of the same process). Now, the title of the award, for “Best New Writer”, should give you a clue; but the Puppies have recommended nine novels. One of these, Saturn Run, is a collaboration between Ctein, who is eligible for a Campbell, and John Sandford, who most certainly is not. And top of the list is Andy Weir for The Martian, a 2011 novel, which should put it well outside the eligibility period for the Campbell award (not to mention the fact that he had published short fiction on his web site long before The Martian appeared, and the Campbell dates from first publication, not first novel).

In other words, this fourth iteration of the Sad Puppies is a mess that will, I suspect, have less effect than previously on the actual nomination process. On this evidence, and given that after this year the Hugo rules will change to make slates impossible, I have a feeling that this may be the last hurrah of the Puppies before they settle into being an irrelevance. Even so, it is worth noting that Alastair Reynolds, for one, has asked for his novella, “Slow Bullets“, to be removed from the list, and I believe Catherynne M. Valente has also expressed unhappiness at being included on this list. The Puppies certainly haven’t lost their taint.

But this, of course, is only the Sad Puppies; we have yet to see what, if anything, the Rabid Puppies will try this year.

 

 

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Paul

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