Monday, April 27, 2015

An Open Letter to Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen

It has come to my attention in all the fracas that there are a lot of harsh words being spread around, mostly coming from the extreme sides. In an effort to get to the bottom of what is going on, I've been reading... a lot... and have noticed some things that lead me to write this open letter in the hopes that it can aid in understanding and help calm the furor. I have narrowed down the root causes of most of the tension to three major points. These are not the only issues, but I think everything else stems from them making these the root causes of the controversy.

First off, I'd like to address your contention that a group of "SJW"s have been controlling the Hugo nominations (and therefore who wins) for years. I have seen lots of statistics on this. I tend to be skeptical of claims like this because they can often turn out to be false, but I have looked at it carefully an honestly. I have so far seen nothing to convince me of this. The sheer volume of works nominated in most of the categories make this highly unlikely. With over 2000 nominations received, if there was a special "SJW" slate, Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies would never have gotten their slates through the nomination process. Instead, what I see is a very diverse set of nominations with certain ones being more popular. A popularity that is reflected in ratings and awards that have nothing to do with the Hugo nomination or award process.

Some have pointed to online forums where some have discussed nominations before hand, but I have never seen a slate of five top candidates to nominate, only discussions that include many more works than that. Some post their top picks, some an unsorted list of contenders. There doesn't seem to be any coordinated effort to settle on a final list of nominees. I did not see any discussion over the diversity variables of the work or the writer. So while there is indeed discussion in various places around the internet, there is a lack of any hard and fast proof of your contention that there are a group of "SJW"s controlling the Hugo Awards. The evidence just isn't there.

Your case also ignores just how long this sort of work has been leading the Hugo Awards. I have read widely in science fiction and dabbled in fantasy and there has long been a trend toward more literary works and more diversity. This is not something that has been forced on the Hugo Awards. If you look carefully, you will find that the previous generations wrote great stories that also had a message. Heinlein wrote both Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land showing the diversity of his range and beliefs. Stranger in a Strange Land was big with those on the left. Anne McCaffrey's Pern series started out with some very pertinent political messages carried with the great story. Her's were the first stories where I encountered openly gay characters in. She was the first woman to win a Hugo 47 years ago.

Rather than some secret cabal of "SJW"s, I think the now largely deceased earlier generations are to blame because the most popular books of the day did contain a message. So did many of the TV Series. Star Trek (both the original series and The Next Generation garnered two Hugos each) in particular. Many authors considered themselves moralists, making comments on the good and bad of humanity. I really don't see much difference in what is written today, in terms of the message that is carried by a lot of fiction and what was written 10, 20, 40, 60, or 100 years ago. Even the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs carry a message of sorts. I would agree that when the message overpowers the story and gets preachy that it gets annoying, but few stories lack a message because authors always put themselves into their work. Science fiction, more than most genres. In science fiction, the author must make predictions of the future - predictions on how humanity will turn out, either for good or bad. Even portraying the status quo is a prediction.

And I won't deny that there are groups who do have an agenda. But the evidence for them influencing the Hugos just isn't there. In fact the success this year of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies slates is about the best proof that there is no "SJW" cabal in charge. The Hugo nominations come from the fans. Yes, they are the fans who participate in Worldcon, but every award has to come from some sort of organization, and the Hugos are the most open of all of them. When you look up the general popularity of a lot of the Hugo Award winners, you find that they often have a wide popularity. Red Shirts, Ancillary Justice, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who. These are easy to check in the best novel and best dramatic presentations categories. Red Shirts, for all the flack it got from some corners for winning, has been green lit for a TV Series. The Hugo wins for these directly reflect a wider popularity.

That brings me to the first of two points of why your success this year has caused such an uproar.

First, you put out a slate of nomination candidates. Not just a list of suggestions, but five nominees in some of the key categories. Your Sad Puppy slate was picked up, modified slightly, and shared as the Rabid Puppy slate which carried that to nearly every category. Because you listed five nominees, and between the two slates there were enough nominations to out vote the normal voters, you pushed out the more organic favorites of the year. When they publish the list of the top 15 nominees in each category later in the year, we will get to see just who got bumped off the list.

That you had works you wanted to see nominated really isn't the issue. You did this two times before with no uproar. That this year the two Puppy slates took over the entire nominee list in several categories is. It comes down to a slate and getting people, not to express their own opinions, but to follow yours to the letter that has people mad. I won't even get into the makeup of your list which has led to the nominations taking a step backward in terms of diversity. I'll just point out that it makes many even angrier. But it is the slate idea that you ran with that is the real issue. I personally would like to see the rules changed to prevent that in the future, but I won't be at the Worldcon so I can't take part in the rules meeting.

The second thing that has caused the uproar are your ties to Vox Day and his Rabid Puppy slate. I should note that it is actually this Rabid Puppy slate that swept the nominations. Where the slates differ, it is the Rabid Puppy slate that got the nomination. But the backlash is seems to be more directed at the Sad Puppy campaign as the originator and public face of the Puppy slates.

Vox Day had caused quite a stir previously in the SFWA. He has become persona non grata there and the opinions he has expressed in many areas, such as race, gender, his fellow writers, etc. has not won him any friends and those ill feelings toward him have increased the ire against you. Your cause is now forever tainted because he has ridden your coattails and you let him, even encouraged him. Rather than shun him as the pariah he is, you defend him. Instead of standing up along with the overwhelming majority of the SF community against what he stands for, you have embraced him as an ally. The enemy of my enemy is my friend... well, not in this case. He is a poison and both of you and Sad Puppies are forever tainted by your acceptance of what he has done.

In addition to his well know bigotry and his bad attitude concerning the SFWA, he has threatened to destroy the Hugo Awards. Frankly, this should have really caused you to distance yourselves from him. If the goal is to get works you enjoy nominated for an award because you feel they are being overlooked, you need the Hugos. Destroying them does not do you, or anyone else, any good. It does benefit Vox Day, giving him a much needed victory after the beating he took running for SFWA president. But if you want to see any awards ever, you need the Hugos intact. If the Hugos die we are left with the Nebula Awards. They are given out by the SFWA. Do you think you stand any chance of gaming the system there? No. That is not an award by fans like the Hugos.

There are more than one group who feel the Hugos are better off dead than be controlled by the other side. The problem is that Vox Day's view is a minority. The majority would rather see them die than see him control the awards. So if the Hugos die, it will be on the terms of the fans who attend Worldcon, not you or Vox Day. They have been the widely acknowledged crown jewel of awards for science fiction and fantasy. If they die that title automatically goes to the Nebula Awards. There has been a great many dual winners over the years. That duality in acknowledgment is another point against some secret cabal of "SJW"s gaming the Hugos, because there is no way for the same group to also game the Nebulas.

So, with a contention that there is a group of "SJW"s at work knocked down, with your slate voting concept seen as the great evil, and with your alliance with Vox Day pulling your otherwise noble goals into the gutter, I would hope you would reconsider your stand on the issues. The slate idea must go. It is really the root cause of ill will against you two. Had you succeeded in getting two nominees in each category, that would have been a success. As it stands now, the seeming success in getting so many nominees on the ballot and dominating so many categories is actually your downfall. And your association with Vox Day is pulling you down the final distance.

I read Brad's very nice post about racism and bigotry really being a type of tribalism. It made great sense. But to then be allied with Vox Day puts a lie to all the logic and thought of that idea. As long as you are allied with him and support him you tacitly support his horrible level of bigotry and no one can take what you say your own beliefs are seriously. In many minds, his bigotry applies to you two as well. There are some people it is just not worth being allied with, even if they share a similar cause. Being allied with Vox Day has very likely destroyed any chance either of you have of ever getting a Hugo or whatever might take its place. It is not your cause, which is just, but the combination of a nomination slate and being allied with Vox Day that is leading you down a dark path.

I, for one, am quite willing to forgive and forget if you forgo the slate concept and break ties with Vox Day. You do not have to give up your cause or give up trying to get works you feel worthy nominated. That is the whole point of the Hugo Awards being fan sourced. Anyone can conceivably win if they get noticed. But going for a slate and getting Vox Day and his cronies to carry their version of that slate to victory is not the kind of notice you want. You want people to see these works and agree to their greatness. Instead, these works may now tainted and their creators marked. But there is still a chance to save your cause.

In many ways, I agree with you. But I have long seen a trend to have a message in stories. The great writers I enjoy can't help but put there message in there. It is part of who they are. But that has rarely gotten in the way of a great story. It is that goal of a great story that any award given by science fiction and fantasy fans should put first. A lot of times all you need to do is put something great in front of them for them to see it. This time, the way you did it has overshadowed what you were trying to do. that is a shame. But what you are fighting against is not some secret cabal of "SJW"s, it is the participating fans at Worldcon. I'm sure there are a few in there who could rightly be categorized as "SJW"s, but it is the body who votes for who receives the award and not only do the winners of the Hugos tend to be popular at Worldcon, but they are popular with the internet at large. Some may doubt the quality of the winners, but when you take a look it is impossible to deny their popularity.

While the Hugo Awards may not work the way you want them to, they have worked for the fan community since they started. It is rare that such a fan selected award marks the best of the field and I think the Hugos are unique and worth preserving. I think the best way to do that is to move on from this year, make the best of the nomination slate, and start fresh next year. I must confess that I am trying to organize a campaign against slate voting that I have dubbed the Soft Kitty Campaign, but its sole purpose to get people involved, no matter who they are voting for. I want to get the word out that for $40 anyone can participate. I won't be supporting any slate or even any leading contenders for 2016. I want to return to the organic nomination and voting process that made the Hugo Awards great. I can't see a shred of evidence, but if you are right about a group of "SJW"s, it will negate them as well as whatever Vox Day might try. I don't want to see the Hugos die or fall under any one person or group's control. It should be the will of the fans and majority wins.

I hope, rather than take immediate offense at anything I have said, that you will stop to consider it carefully. I am not doing this for anyone but you. I see the justice in your cause and I think there is still a chance to save it. Make Vox Day and Rabid Puppies the fall guy and take your cause and fight again next year. If you stand for the principles that you claim to, this should not be hard. Vox Day stands for a tiny minority and does not care if he destroys something good. I think the two of you do care and I hope you get the chance to prove it. It may be too late as far as some are concerned as it is Sad Puppies that is taking the blame, but not everyone will hold a grudge.

From my perspective, it is really what you do next that matters most. Best of luck to both of you.

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