The collected version of all three volumes of Debarkle: Saga of a Culture War. In 2015 a major controversy broke out in the world of science fiction's most prestigious literary award. Debarkle traces the history of this controversy, examining the roots and consequences of the events.
This is a non-fic about a great scandal in the mid-2010s related to Hugo awards, the most famous of SFF genre awards and its relations to the US politics. The book is nominated for Hugo 2022 for the best genre-related work and I think it is quite worthy of the award.
I actually was aware about Sad/Rabid Puppies campaigns in general terms, but this large book (it was initially in 3 volumes, this 1-volume version is 993 page long, say the popular doorstopper titled The Way of Kings is 1007 pages long) and contains a lot of quotes from about the time of the scandal with massive footnotes (usually 10-20 per chapter), containing links to blog posts, comments and articles, sometimes with the author’s comments.
The book starts with the evolution of the US (and to a lesser extent world) fandoms, from pulp magazines of the 1930s to post-WW2 conventions organized by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) which are usually called WorldCons for short and since 1953 awards Hugo for best works of the previous year. The awards are nominated and voted by anyone, who purchased a membership for a given year (not-attending but voting memberships starts at $50). These awards now cover a lot of subjects – novels, movies, TV series, artwork, etc. As time went by the works’ themes as well as authors/readers became more diverse and this sometimes created a desire for ‘old good SF’ from a share of readers. As one of the participants (Brad R. Torgersen) later stated, the interest in the genre in issues of diversity (on multiple dimensions) and representation and avoiding discrimination and bigotry was creating an aesthetic shift in the genre towards “politically correct” stories focused on character, lacking in optimism about the future and weaker on core SFF themes that have become “window dressing”.
This desire was used initially by Larry Correia to organize Sad Puppies campaign (at least partially to promote SFF works by himself and his supporters) and later boosted/hijacked by Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies. Day is a classic internet troll on a self-proclaimed campaign against the Left, the social justice warriors (SJWs) and a person expelled from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (which he sees as another cabal of the Left).
The book is worth reading for anyone interested in modern SFF fandom, its development, and its problems.
To begin with, I have no idea who Camestros Felapton is, or why they chose a couple of medieval names for syllogistic forms for their nom-de-blog-and-other-things. I suspect them of being Australian, but that's about all I would dare to deduce from this book.
So: What is the Debarkle, and why is it Complete?
At some level this book will be of interest only to members of the (semi-)organized science-fiction-and-fantasy (SFF) fan community; at another, it's a fascinating examination of political manipulations of several sorts, and how American politics got to where it is today (or was a year or two ago).
In 2015, SFF fandom was Shaken To The Core when a group of not-very-well-known-in-general writers, through their blogs, posted slates of "what-or-who to vote for" for the Hugo Awards and the definitely-not-a-Hugo John Campbell Award (now known as the Astounding Award) for best new writer, and prodded their readers into buying supporting memberships in that year's World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) and actually getting the contents of the slate, largely, onto the final ballot -- indeed, in several categories, these slates completely filled the ballot.
Making the situation even sti(n|c)kier, the producers of these slates had a clear political agenda -- well, _several_ political agendae; and those agendae were, by and large, of the right-wing persuasion.
Of course, this didn't all suddenly arise in 2015; and Felapton tells the story in its proper historical context, beginning (though roots continue back further) at the not-entirely-arbitrary year 1880. They trace the origins of SFF fandom, alongside the ongoing political world outside (and inside) that fandom, up to the arising of the Puppies.
The Puppies, you see, were the slate-makers, or perhaps their followers, or maybe the people on the slates. The use of the terminology varied at the time, though Felapton pretty clearly uses it to refer to the slate-makers.
And there were two slates: the Sad Puppies, which began a couple of years earlier, and the Rabid Puppies.
The Sad Puppies began, roughly, when gun dealer and SF writer Larry Correia, who seemed convinced that he had no chance at these awards, because (he said) SFF fandom was dominated by evil left-wing SJWs and SMOFs (that's "Social Justice Warriors" and "Secret Masters of Fandom" to you and me) on a mission to crush America under their socialistic heels, or something like that, suggested in his blog ("Monster Hunter Nation") that his readers should nominate him for the Campbell Award that year.
Though he didn't actually get on the ballot, the campaign was sufficiently successful that, the following year, he announced "Sad Puppies," a campaign to get more traditional (meaning white-male-dominated, science-heavy, action-oriented) science fiction on the ballots. To this end he recommended a number of eligible works and people to nominate.
By 2015, Sad Puppies 3 was run by others, and constituted a proper slate.
That same year, one Theodore Beale, writing as "Vox Day," a right-wing extremist (and that is an undercharacterization) who had a presence in several media, and who had been kicked out of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's of America some years earlier (for reasons described in the book), announced the Rabid Puppies slate. His "Vile Faceless Minions" appear to have bought enough memberships, and submitted enough identical nominations, to put many of the slated works on the final ballot, including sweeps of several categories. If there is a central character to the Debarkle, it would be Vox Day.
SFF fandom responded defensively, in two ways:
First, they bought _even more_ Worldcon memberships in time for the final voting, and saw to it that Puppy-nominated works -- with one or two exceptions, which would probably have been nominated anyway -- not only did not win, but were ranked below "No Award" in the final balloting: meaning that, in the categories Day's slate had swept, the Hugo simply was not awarded that year.
Second, they proposed rule changes to the Hugo selection procedures to diminish the impact of slates -- of _any_ slate, mind you, not just those of the right-wing persuasion.
Vox Day (the way ideologues of any stripe tend to do) declared victory, claiming ex post facto that his entire goal was to "burn the Hugos to the ground," and that another year of No Awards would do the job adequately.
The following year, even though the rules changes had not yet taken effect, both Sad and Rabid Puppy slates were announced, but their impact on the nominating phase was greatly reduced, and their impact on the final awards seems to have been pretty-much minimal.
I have just, more or less, summarized the middle third of the book, except for the parts that describe the non-SFF aspects of the ongoing evolution of American politics.
The Complete Debarkle was written as a serial, one chapter at a time, and published on Camestros Felapton's blog (which is, apparently, shared by one Timothy the Talking Cat); as a result, it is choppy in places, a bit repetitive in others. I gather that some attention was paid to smoothing these things out.
The book is, by and large, well-written, though with a number of infelicities (fairly large as an absolute number, not so large in this quite huge ebook) that a good line editor would surely have fixed. Ultimately, this is a labor of love (if that's the word). The ebook is (legitmately) offered free in a number of places, and is not -- so far as I know -- available in any other way: thus, I would not expect professional line-editing and such. Given its
The quality of its research is made clear by copious endnotes for each chapter (which, alas, are not linked, so when I wanted to trace one, I had to flip madly back-and-forth on my Kindle). There is very little lambasting; the Puppies are permitted to portray themselves as what they are, or at least what they chose in those days to appear to be on their blogs and elsewhere.
The sections on the larger political context are as well-written and -researched as those specific to SFF fandom. (They have a certain tone that makes me feel reasonably certain that, wherever they may reside, Camestros Faelapton is _not_ a USAn.)
If you're at all interested in the interactions between macropolitics and the politics of subcultures (for example, the infamous #GamerGate), I recommend this highly.
This is a book with a very limited audience (especially since it runs to almost 1000 pages), but for that audience it will be a fascinating and extremely well documented read, recounting the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns that tore through the Hugo Award voting in 2015 and 2016. As a long-time Hugo voter (more than four decades) I was caught in the middle of their shenanigans, but had no idea just how crazy some of the participants in those movements are. Felapton frames the Puppy kerfuffle as a microcosm of the greater societal shift towards alt-right aggression towards all kinds of perceived injustices and devotes a great deal of the book examining these broader themes and how the Puppy leaders fit into those narratives. The result is that these instigators come off looking very bad, supporting a lot of kooky conspiracy theories. The actual motivations of the Puppies are elusive, but somewhere in there is a sense that right wing authors don't get a fair shake because of their politics, and that the Hugos are controlled by a cabal of left wingers. I can't speak for other Hugo voters, but even knowing the 2015 and 2016 finalist lists were filled with Puppy slated works I did my due diligence and read most of the nominated works on the chance that their nominees were actually good. What I found (2015-hugo-campbell-finalists) was that these works were by and large mediocre at best, regardless of political leanings. I read and enjoy a lot of "pulp" fiction, but I know the difference between simple entertainment and award-worthy literature. I want the Hugo Award to reflect good writing that pushes the genre forward and reflects our contemporary world using science fiction and fantasy metaphors. The Puppy works simply did not do that. I don't envy the vile rants Felapton had to wade through to extract pertinent quotes to support his research, research that is on par with a doctoral dissertation. Felapton's sympathies are clear, but he manages to present everything very even handily, letting the Puppies' own nutty words make his case. My only reservation about this book is that Felapton only used written blog posts and did not directly interview any of the central participants, especially now that we've had a few years to digest the fallout from the Debarkle.
This was a comprehensive history of the Sad/Rabid Puppies kerfuffle from the middle of the last decade in which the author tries to put the campaign into the wider historical context of the culture wars that were happening, primarily, but not entirely, in the US at the time. The work was released, one chapter at a time, on the author's blog and later collected and revised into a single ebook.
Felapton has examined the subject in great detail, starting from the early days of fandom, providing "dramatis personae" on all the major players and going through the events leading up to the kerfuffle itself, and finally looking at what happened afterwards and how the culture wars continued to develop after the puppies themselves stopped being relevant.
This last section is possibly the least successful, since it doesn't tie into the fandom stuff at all, other than looking at what the leaders of the puppies, the so-called "Evil League of Evil" were up to at the time. The main event, however, is excellent. Felapton has read Vox Day's writing so that I don't have to. They comprehensively document the events leading up to and during the puppy slates, with many, many footnotes and long quotes from the major players themselves, with links back to primary sources. The only complaint I have about that is that the footnotes aren't hyperlinked so aren't as easy to read as I might have liked.
Despite meandering a bit towards the end, this is a really good piece of writing and was a worthy contender for the 2022 Best Related Work Hugo award (no slating required).
4 1/2 stars. A comprehensive in-depth look at the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies Hugo campaigns and the reactions thereto, framed within the context of what was going on in the world, the U.S., and the political arena in general. Additionally, the work examines several other pop culture clashes that slightly predated, postdated, or were contemporaneous with the kerfuffle. There are loads of links covering anything quoted, paraphrased, replied to, blogged, commented, etc. It's relatively long but also quite interesting.
This will only appeal to a rather niche audience, but it's an amazingly detailed overview of the Sad/Rabid Puppies kerfuffle that embroiled the Hugo Awards (most prominently in 2015) and how it relates to broader culture wars and conspiracy theories. It reads like a rough draft and relies too heavily on direct quotes rather than commentary, but will be a valuable resource for future analysis of the people and ideas involved.
This is a surprisingly even-handed retelling of the events that surrounded “puppygate” just a few years ago. Surprisingly even-handed because there’s a few participants who really did themselves no favours during this time.
A good history of recent events in SF fandom. I keep having to explain to people who only occasionally read SF who the sad puppies were. This is a book that I could hand them and save myself a rambling explanation.
This is on the BSFA Awards long-list; a chronology and analysis of the Sad and Rabid Puppies, and their unsuccessful attempts to take over the 2015 and 2016 Hugo Awards, by the anonymous Australian blogger known as Camestros Felapton. I’ll be upfront and say that I vote for (almost) anything with my own name in it, and I am quoted half a dozen times here so it’s getting my vote to go on the BSFA short-list. In particular, it becomes clear that my own 2011 review, of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International was a major cause of resentment for him, the one thing he kept coming back to when complaining about mean people in SMOFdom. (At the time I wrote it, of course, I was not a SMOF at all; my involvement with Worldcons did not begin until the following year, and I was appointed as a future Hugo administrator for the first time only in 2015.)
I think in general Debarkle is fair, and attempts to understand both the Puppies and their opponents on their own terms. Throughout, the wider cultural and political context from which the Puppies emerged is linked to the specifics of the story – this includes Racefail, the Requires Hate affair and a bunch of other sf controversies, but also Gamergate, and the future Trump and Brexit victories of 2016.
After all that analysis, one is left a little mystified as to what the goal of the Sad Puppies actually was, once the founder Larry Correia had bowed out and his wounded pride was no longer a factor; the various mission statements made by Brad Torgersen and the Mad Genius Club are somewhat contradictory, to put it mildly. Torgersen is eloquent without actually being articulate, and this meant that a number of naïve, mostly right-wing fans with a vague political grievance threw their lot in with him, whereas other more sensible people took one look at his frothing blog posts and decided they’d seen enough.
As for the Rabid Puppies, they were a manifestation of Vox Day’s determined self-promotion and general evil intention of wrecking other people’s fun. (Vox Day has self-described as “evil” on numerous occasions, so I don’t feel that I am being judgemental here.) Some people saw the (very partial) success of the Rabid Puppy slate as proof of Vox Day’s cunning; in fact all it showed was that he was able to persuade his acolytes to throw away their money. His dismal lack of critical thinking skills, clear enough at the time from his political polemics, have been vividly demonstrated since by his gormless adoption of the QAnon / Trump mythos.
The book ends with the author’s “unified puppy theory” which attempts to explain Correia and Torgersen’s behaviour as manifesting a business development strategy, and it makes some sense, though really I think the briefest summary is that the principals simply lost the run of themselves, as we say back home.
The author has made the whole book available for free here. I wish they had spent a bit more time chasing down typos and tightening up the prose, and also I wish that they’d hyperlinked the footnotes, which would make for an easier read. But it’s very much worth getting, if you lived through that period, and it probably will stand as the best record of what exactly happened.