/ / Articles

Puppies V. Trufans: Civil War

“Turncoat” writer Steve Rzasa: In the Hugo Award fracas, neither “puppies” faction had a very Christian view of conflict.
| Aug 28, 2015 | 29 comments |
Science fiction’s civil war had far less excitement.

Science fiction’s civil war had far less excitement.

It’s madness.

That’s my takeaway from the Hugo mess of the past six months.

The best summaries of the fracas—my new favorite word—are at The New York Times and Wired. Of course, the two biggest guns fired off their shots in the aftermath. On one side, John Scalzi summarized his thoughts as eloquently as usual on Monday, after the awards and “No Awards” were announced. On the other, Vox Day reiterated his position with similar subtlety.

Basically, you had two different conservative or libertarian or “right wing” groups advocating several slates of works for the Hugo Awards. As I understand it, this is not a violation of the Hugo rules in the slightest, but—according to many—tramples on the spirit. The other side disagrees.

cover_ridingtheredhorseMy short story Turncoat, set in the Quantum Mortis sci-fi universe and written with a very specific aim, was nominated this way: Last spring, Vox Day approached me about writing a short story for the Riding the Red Horse anthology. He saw it as a successor to Jerry Pournelle’s There Will be War. Since I had a genuinely good time writing the Quantum Mortis books, I agreed. Over the next few months, I brainstormed concepts, and wrote Turncoat in July.

Fast forward to December 2014 and Turncoat was released as part of Riding the Red Horse. The first I learned of the Rabid Puppies thing was when I saw Turncoat on Vox’s slate or list or helpful suggestions round-up — whatever you want to call it — in February. I thought that was nice to be considered for such an award, and vaguely read over what Rabid Puppies’ aim was. Frankly, I didn’t think they had a snowball’s chance. But then again, I knew next to nothing about the Hugos and absolutely zero about the previous Sad Puppies efforts.

Whatever the goals of both Puppy groups are/were, they were not, from my perspective, pursued with Christian views in mind. The campaigning on both sides was, in one word, brutal. Even supposing the Puppy groups were correct that they were persecuted and disregarded when it came to science fiction awards, the whole fracas is in direct violation of Paul’s admonitions in Romans 12: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

The Puppy vs. Trufan war was not conducted in this fashion. There were some on both sides who conducted themselves well, but name-calling and threats dominated. I’m sure a lot of people outside the debate now think there’s a ton of crazy people reading sci-fi and fantasy.

But don’t kid yourself: this showdown was not about faith. It was about message.

In Christian fiction circles, “preachy” means you talk too much about Christianity in your writing and your characters are too blunt about their faith. It’s considered literary Bible-thumping, if you will.

Preachy writing is not limited to those of evangelical persuasion. In secular walks, there’s a conservative faction concerned that modern sci-fi and fantasy has become too preachy in terms of social issues such as homosexuality, feminism, race, and immigration. They feel the genres should move back toward the classic themes of heroism, adventure, and good triumphing over evil.

cover_themartianAre they correct? My tastes in science fiction tend toward adventure rather than drama, so I’ve missed a lot of this preaching in the new works. Consider this: one of the most popular sci-fi books in recent years, The Martian, is going to be turned into a major movie. It is free of most preaching, except for one thing: the lone survivor triumphing over a hostile environment. It’s also not up for any major awards.

There are some who irately point out that the Puppy slates included works that are message fiction, broadcasting a social or religious point of view, and slammed the Puppies for being hypocritical. What they failed to understand is that the Puppies never said they were against message fiction in general, but rather against a certain message, one that promotes a more liberal viewpoint at the expense of story. I won’t pinpoint any examples, but there was grumbling against stories that were romance with a thin veneer of science fiction.

Of course, this may all be tilting at windmills. Why? Consider science fiction’s share of the sales market these days. According the annual analysis of genres by Publishers Weekly, science-fiction’s sales in 2014 for the adult market (and I’ll ignore young adult because the Hugos tend toward more literary grown-up types) was 4.1 million. That’s out of the total adult fiction market of 138.7 million.

So science-fiction sales were 2.98 percent of the year’s total. This of course only deals with print, not e-books, so the percentage could be greater, but even if sci-fi e-books at double or triple that percentage, that’s still less than 10 percent. I found it all exhausting and at times ludicrous.

My point? This is a very small corner of our lives. Our faith should be the focus, with we should enjoy stories and write stories to honor God. Whether you choose to honor God by reaching to those who are lost with inspiring stories, or by delivering the reassurance of the Gospel to those who are found, is up to you.

Steve Rzasa has written many science fiction and fantasy novels. He is a former journalist and currently the technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming, where he lives with his wife and two boys. Steve's a fan of all things science-fiction and superhero, and is also a student of history.

29
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
R. J. Anderson
Member

Well and sanely said, Steve. I have no interest in the Hugos because they have no interest in me (i.e. no category for children’s / teen writers, unlike the Nebulas) so I didn’t feel motivated to speak out on the issue — but I certainly observed the fracas from a distance and was grieved by what was going on. If people claim to be standing up for what’s right and good then they ought to do it in a way that is right and good, not indulge in the vicious mud-slinging, arrogant boasting, and gleeful malice that I saw from many of those who were most adamant about their position. I don’t expect Christlike behaviour from those who have never made any claim to follow Him, but I definitely do expect it from those who make “Christian values” a part of their online discourse.

Sherwood Smith
Guest

Well said!

Austin Gunderson
Member

Seems like politics as usual, or at least as usual as it can get when one side is calling the other side a bunch of racist sexist mysogynist homophobic luddite bigots and urging its followers to vote “No Award” rather than risk a single Hugo falling into “enemy hands.”

I can’t think of any political battle in the last twenty-five years that’s been waged in accordance with Paul’s admonitions in Romans 12. After all, the only reason one enters politics is to win. And it’s not possible to win in politics if you bless those who persecute you. Even if that’s the right thing to do, it only guarantees political defeat, and sets you up to get kicked while you’re down.

So the critique leveled by this article is more a critique of politics in general than the politicization of the Hugos.

Morgan Busse
Member

Great article on the whole mess!

Parker J. Cole
Member

I had to get acclimated to the events before I could remark because the whole puppies thing threw me for a loop. Suffice to say, I miss old science fiction where the adventure was the most important thing. I remember one of my best reading experiences — and it was message fiction I found out later although at the time I didn’t know — was when I read Battlefield:Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. It was an adventure story through and through. I didn’t care about any latent messages in the book. Just a good story. I mean, Andre Norton was one of the best in this field and she was a woman.  I don’t recall a lot of her stories being more than adventures.

Yeah but when science fiction and fantasy becomes political, maybe it’s time to find a hole and crawl into it.

I guess at the end of the day, I just want a good story to read. But then I write Christian romances and spec fiction so maybe I’m not the best person to ask. I don’t know.

R. J. Anderson
Member

Science Fiction has been political and philosophical from the get-go, though. Asimov and Clarke, among others, used science fiction to explore their own humanistic and/or atheistic ideas, as did Gene Roddenberry (though IMO, Star Trek ended up being a lot more fun than anything by Asimov et al). The oft-cited “classics” of SF tend to be heavily weighted with the authors’ philosophical baggage, for good or ill. The character of the evil scientist Weston in C.S. Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET was written as a direct response to the ideas espoused by Olaf Stapledon and H.G. Wells in their SF novels.

Even the pulp fiction magazines with covers featuring scantily-clad women being menaced by bug-eyed monsters while a steely-eyed, musclebound man rushed in with a ray gun were saying something, even if they thought it was “just good fun”. So what’s really at stake here is not whether SF will become political and philosophical, but exactly what kind of philosophy and politics it’s going to represent, and how.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

The surprise was that the fight happened at all. Usually people just suffer under whatever the gatekeepers push out, and then serious SF fans wonder why the only books that sell are Halo novels.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Here’s another good, balanced, article which laid out the issues at stake and the positions of the two (three?) sides. Well worth the read, I think: http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2015/08/24/lots-of-hugo-losers/

Becky

R. J. Anderson
Member

That’s a good one, Becky, agreed. Thanks for the link.

Alissa
Guest

Thanks for the link! I hadn’t read this one. 🙂

Lisa
Guest

I dunno. This whole thing seems very far removed from me, and sorry, as a Canadian peering down at you from the Great White North, somehow typical of what I see in American politics these days. Two sides, fighting to the death, no shades of grey allowed. I find it all bizarre and sad. I get the frustration of the Sad Puppies, I don’t understand the mentality of the Rabid Puppies, and I get annoyed at the glossing over of the problem by the other guys (SJW? Or whatever they are called). But, meh. Whatever. Your last paragraph basically is how I look at these things.

Alissa
Guest

Just a mention: The Martian wasn’t up for any awards because it didn’t qualify as being published this year because it was previously self-published before the publishing house picked it up. I believe it would have won if it had been eligible.

Otherwise, the vitriolic hatred spilling from both sides was disheartening and disgusting at best. I’ve followed the craziness way too much (I have very passionate friends on both sides of the war). The best article I’ve read from the ‘Trufans’ side of the argument is here: https://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/hugos-puppies-peeling-the-onion/ Although the author simplifies what the Puppies believe in the same way she says they do to the Trufans/SJWs, the author is at least reasonable and brings up some interesting points that are worthy of discussion.

Also, a note on “preachy”: All books have an ideological bent. Those that seem “preachy” have one that is different from your own. The more “preachy” it seems, the more against that ideology you are. I consider books “preachy” when their purpose it to convert me to their cause. Simply having elements of ideology in the book; be it characters, themes, or situations; isn’t enough for me to call it “preachy”. (Though I have read Christian books that are exactly in my ideology that I consider “preachy”, so I don’t know if I just disproved my thought or what… Perhaps that line is just drawn much earlier when you’re reading something that differs from your ideology?)

Either way, thanks for the article. I loved your application of Romans 12.

Scott Frazer
Guest
Scott Frazer

Alissa: I was going to drop in to say pretty much what you said about “preachy.” For the puppies: they seem (to my mind) to over-amplify any progressive message they see in a work. The Ancillary novels are probably the easiest example. As an anti-slater I certainly noticed plenty of message among the works they nominated but I also can’t say it was the message that turned me off of them. Except Wisdom From My Internet. The message behind that one just seemed to be rude.

Steve: Good article. Glad to see it show up on the File 770 roundup.

Greg M.
Guest

The guy who *wrote* The Martian, Andy Weir, was eligible for the Campbell this year and is also eligible next year (and was popular enough to get enough votes that he would have been a finalist if not for the slates…) but here’s hoping he makes the ballot next year.

Alissa
Guest

Yes. Andy Weir was eligible for the Campbell (which is not a Hugo) this year. The ironic thing is that the Puppies kept him OFF the ballot this year even though his novel practically exemplifies the stories the Puppies claim to promote. The author of this article seemed to blame the ‘trufans’ for keeping him off, but that could’ve been my misinterpretation. He seemed genuinely surprised The Martian wasn’t nominated, so I wanted to clear that up. I hope Andy Weir can make the ballot next year because his book is amazing. (They should also look at the eligibility rules of self-published stories because it takes longer for them to be seen and enter into culture enough to make an impact. By the time they break out and people are reading them, they’re ineligible.)

dgarsys
Guest
dgarsys

Alyssa – a consequence of the books that were nominated was that the Martian was kept off.

 

I assure you – I loved that book, and if I had been aware it was actually eligible, I would have put that at the top of my list. I’m certainly waiting for (and hope they don’t mess up) the movie, despite Matt Damon.

 

And I’m hardly the only one.

dgarsys
Guest
dgarsys

Steve – absolutely loved your story, and overall an interesting take.

Both this article and a couple others act as if by fighting back against years of exclusion and seizure of power we are un-Christian. Or not nice.

I’m not terribly Christian, but I’ve done some reading after seeing atheists attack christians for not being pacifist/etc. Even Jesus told his disciples to sell their cloaks for swords, and drove vendors out of his fathers temple with whips and violence. And as I believe Chesterton put it, moderation in the defense of virtue is no virtue.

I’m interested in being GOOD, not nice. I consider self-defence of oneself, one’s reputation, one’s family, one’s tribe, and one’s livelihood to be right and good.

I sympathize. Basically decent people don’t want to get angry or fight. They have a hard time imagining that various actions are more than lapses that can be forgiven, and things go on. That some people are permanently stuck at an emotional and selfish age of a middle schooler, with no sense of self. That others – literally – have no sympathy, and if we’re lucky, they think following the rules are a good idea otherwise they’ll lie to you in a heartbeat, or cut said heart out of you, and not ever care.

They don’t realize that “gone girl” is not as much a work of fiction as we’d comfortably like to believe. There are people (including women) like that, and I, and people I know, have met them.

While the Hugos themselves are not terribly significant as stakes, we are dealing with not only people who cheerfully, consistently, libelously lied through their teeth about the membership of the puppies and the works they nominated, but tore people down over a magazine cover, and wish the luminaries of our genre would just shut up and shuffle off and die already.

We are dealing with people who call Brad Torgersen a “racist”, and when it’s pointed out his wife is black, don’t say “whoah, we might be wrong” but instead say he’s using her as a shield.

We are dealing with people who, supposedly educated, see the word “chicom”, and don’t know it. The ignorance is forgivable, but upon looking it up, find ONE definition that states it’s a slur, and decide it’s a slur against the racial component and not against the political philosophy that OVER AND OVER AGAIN LEADS TO MASS MURDER.

They then congratulate people like Sarah Hoyt for teaching them a new racial slur, and you can see the twitter mob pile on to her for her racism. Some double down on their ignorance.

We are dealing with people who will bald-facedly tell us that politics is a form of quality, and the wrong politics means our works and selves are bad.

We are dealing with people who would hound a tech CEO (“but he resigned”) out of office, not for ever discriminating against his customers or his employees or fellow board members, but for making a donation years ago to a political movement that a majority voting percentage of one of the most liberal states in the US approved of and voted for, a position that our current president then agreed with.

We are dealing with people who – with one exception I know of – never apologized for publicly shaming and dogpiling a software developer who was demonstrably innocent of predatory charges of sexual harassment.

We are dealing with a culture where a lady who plays a risque game like Cards Against Humanity in public hallways tries to shame and summon a public mob on two men for making a private, overheard, risque joke about “dongles” and “forking” repositories.

We are dealing with people who, whether they be Irene Gallo on the puppies side, or Leigh Alexander and her ilk on the GamerGate side, are willing to lie, slander, and misrepresent themselves and their supposed customers to make people bend to their will, at the cost of their reputations, careers, and livelihoods.

So no. I don’t bow to the concept that violence and anger are never justified. Who started it, and who is willing to live and let live, and is fighting back when running out of room to do so, MATTERS.

dgarsys
Guest
dgarsys

c4c

Julie D
Guest
Julie D

Well said.   There are people who are rabidly eager to attack anyone who sets a toe out of line, and there are people who wouldn’t say boo to a ghost. And when they meet, neither side ‘wins”.

 

dgarsys
Guest
dgarsys

Under “difficulty with dealing with existential evil”

Id seen repeated statements from interviews that Jews being herded into concentration camps in Germany followed orders obediently, because they believed no-one could be so inhumane and unreasonable. It couldn’t get worse, etc.

The shock the germans felt in Warsaw when they actually faced armed resistance from people they thought completely cowed (“My God, the Jews have guns!”)

Solzhenytsin in Gulag Archipelago, also noting how so few believed the system, and the people running it could be so inhumane. “If only Stalin knew!”

And how often those rare few who had the presence of mind to bolt and run when the knock came at their door, were able to get away, where most let their captors in.

 

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

I doubt anybody has problems with the basic motivation of wanting to see fair play done, but there is a certain magical point where it all goes FUBAR because everyone thinks if they explain it juuuust right, everyone will be all perfectly enlightened and in one accord.

Except that pretty much never happens, and without a construct such as Scalzi’s Banhammer of Loving Correction (I can’t help but love that name) to police and keep the peace, it gives way to frustration and poo-flinging. And that’s assuming everyone came in with calm motives in the first place and the ideological blitzkriegers of whatever flavor didn’t swoop in to carpet-bomb the conversation.

Julie D
Guest
Julie D

Also, out of curiosity, how ‘elitist’ are the Hugos? I know that the Academy Awards tend to show a big gap between box office receipts and nominees, but is there a similar tendency?

Side note: The year Les Mis won best hair and makeup over The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the first and only time I checked into the Oscars. And on that announcement, I checked out forever.

Watts
Guest

That’s a really tough question to answer definitively. I don’t think it’s that easy even with the Oscars — it’s rare for the most popular movies to win the major awards, but it’s also rare for movies that didn’t do fairly well in wide release to win them, either. And there’s a reasonable debate to be had over how closely “popular” lines up with “deserving of award” in any field to start with — we can probably all think of examples of things that we feel are exemplary, but we know aren’t going to become the next Harry Potter.

With the Hugos, you can pretty much write off the chances of any novel that’s a media tie-in (a Star Wars or Halo novel, for instance) and usually any novel that’s part of an open-ended series. Those books usually aren’t going for high art, but they often go for high craft; I suspect most awards, including the Hugos, tend to be biased toward the art side. With that caveat, though, most of the novel nominees in any given year show a bias toward big-name authors and books that sell pretty well — a look at the last fifteen years shows nominations and/or wins from names like J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Kim Stanley Robinson, Charles Stross, China Miéville, Neal Stephenson, etc. All of those names are big in the field and some are of course household names. The 2014 novel winner, Ann Leckie, was kind of an anomaly for being a first-time novelist, but from what I’ve heard her book Ancillary Justice sold an awful lot by genre standards.

(And of course there’s always politics, although I think the Oscars are way more subject to political winds in practice — not just ideological but personal Hollywood ego stuff.)

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I wonder if this is due to the destruction of the midlist author by publishers. You go back past 15 years, and you get a lot different look at the genre. Lot of different, non big-name authors. Timothy Zahn is a good example, think he won a Hugo for Cascade Point. I think Rebecca Ore was nominated too. I wonder if the current climate nutures those authors now, but I’ve been out of the loop.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

There really isn’t a divide in SF like that. Closest I could think of would be the military-historical fiction subgenre, the David Drake/Eric Flint style stuff. Normally the SF awards are a really good indicator of the genre overall. A lot of the Christians here could benefit by reading the works on those lists, even the SJW ones.

Kerry Nietz
Member

I’ve been wondering about your take on the whole Hugo “fracas” since I saw  your story was nominated, Steve. Thanks for sharing!