Tuesday, 9 June 2015

We Need To Talk About Sad and Rabid Puppies

Seriously. And yes, I do mean with the same seriousness as 'we' needed to talk about Kevin.

For those who don't know, Sad Puppies (and their angrier kid brothers Rabid Puppies) are a bunch of predominantly male authors who are tired of their books and their manly mates' books not getting Hugo Awards because all these new books with - gasp! - liberal agendas keep winning them instead. You know, the kind of books that tackle things like women's and LGBT issues, or include a variety of different races and ethnic groups - and not even as the bad guys. Some of the people writing these things are even writing them from personal experience; yep, you read that right - feminist and LGBT stories written by actual women and actual LGBT people!

And science fiction and fantasy, apparently, is not the place for such subversive nonsense. It's a manly man's arena that is, so you can save all that diversity malarkey for chick-lit and online fan fiction, because that's the stuff women read and they've got to have something to think about while they're doing the ironing...

Okay, I may have taken a wee side turning into Snarksville there.  And for the past three years, the tactics employed by Sad Puppies have not been illegal or even, technically speaking, cheating (they get as many of their mates and supporters as they can to 'buy' the right to submit nominations, and then carpet-bomb-nominate only their mates and others they feel are 'worthy' of being nominated.)

It's a tactic straight out of The Old Boys Club, and there's a sad irony in the knowledge that they don't see they're replacing one form of supposed 'favouritism' (nominations allegedly being dictated by 'politically-correct agendas') with another (nominations dictated by who's rich enough to 'buy' the right to nominate.) But then politicians and those who went to public school are usually blind to that sort of thing as well. It's a shame it's starting to infect an award that was originally designed to honour those who were breaking new ground and pushing the boundaries with their fiction, but other than that the most you could accuse Sad and Rabid Puppies of was striving to turn the Hugo Awards into some sort of super-exclusive, mutual back-slapping club, where everyone sat around telling each other how great they were... but only if they were The Right Sort, old chap.

At least, that was how I'd previously viewed them. But then this thing with Irene Gallo happened, and I read some actual quotes from authors who support Sad and Rabid Puppies. Quotes like these:

“White American men simply don’t rape these days. At this point, unless a womann [sic] claims it was committed by a black or Hispanic man she didn’t previously know, all claims of rape, especially by a college woman, have to be considered intrinsically suspect.”  
Theo Beale

"I am not unrepentantly homophobic. I am nothing of the kind. It is a lie.

I follow the Catholic teaching on same sex attraction and how one deals with it. In public, I have heaped scorn on those who use a children’s cartoon, one I loved, to insinuate their pro-perversion propaganda in a cowardly and craven way.

I have no hate, no fear, nothing but respect for homosexuals.

You and people like you who use the false cloak of compassion for homosexual to lure them into ruining their lives, you are the ones for whom I have no respect. You are the ones who hate them; you are the one who urge them down ever darker paths." 
John C. Wright, in response to an online open letter from Tom Doherty apologising for Irene Gallo's comments.

Now, if I was seeing comments like this on a Reddit thread (not a place I frequent if I can help it) I might be able to just shrug them off as the rantings of frustrated trolls, trying to provoke a reaction and get their sweet five minutes of infamy. If I was feeling particularly uncharitable, I might assume they were under-achieving losers, still living in their mum's basement and yet to get past second base with a female. So while I might be riled by their comments, I wouldn't be unduly worried by them because they're reminiscent of the two-a-penny, par-for-the-course responses that litter sites like Reddit, YouTube, Jezebel and a host of others. They're generally made by nobodies - teeny little fish in the vast ocean that is the internet.

But in the above cases, these were actual quotes from authors. People with some degree of fame and - dare I say it - respect in the literary world, who write books intending that loads of people will want to read them and absorb the messages inside them.

When authors write stories, they do so with an intent to give them ideas and information in a way that entertains but also challenges existing beliefs and persuades people to think about things in a different way. That's a lot of power right there. And, like Uncle Ben said (the Spiderman one, not the rice-purveying one) "with great power comes great responsibility."

I've never read anything written by Theo Beale or John C. Wright - and after seeing these quotes, I sure as hell don't want to. Do these attitudes permeate into their fiction as well? Are they serving them up surreptitiously, hiding inside the skins of their fictional characters and giving them meat and gravy with the grimness of their plot twists? If so, the Sad and Rabid Puppies' shenanigans with the Hugo Awards start to look less like a bunch of petulant authors screaming "not fair" and more like a sinister agenda.

I know I know, free speech and all that. Banning these authors from saying such stuff, or refusing to publish anything that promotes it is a violation of their rights to express their views and that's wrong too. You can't go on some moralistic crusade to ostracise and silence the literary 'voices' of others, just because  you don't agree with what they say.

But by hijacking the Hugo awards with votes-for-their-mates every year, isn't that exactly what they're doing? Ensuring that the voices they deem as belonging to 'their club' get preferential attention over those that don't? I believe the correct term for that is 'propaganda' - and history has proved that such tactics are rarely used for the greater good. Perhaps the Hugo Awards needs to devise a new system for nominations - one that can't be played like a fiddle by a bunch of disgruntled bezzies with fat wallets banding together. Hmm, I dunno... maybe even let the people who actually buy the books have a say? Y'know - the Great Unwashed that is The General Public? And let them do it for free as well, instead of having to cough up forty quid for their special 'voting pack?'

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