Science fiction is full of stories of a rag-tag group of rebels taking on the Big Bad Empire. These rebels, using a combination of wits, pluck, and determination, inevitably manage to take the Empire down and bring a new era of peace to the galaxy.
Rarely, however, does such a thing happen in real life.
The Hugos are the Oscars of science fiction and fantasy, an award with a long and pedigreed history of honoring the greatest visionary minds in the genre. However, in the last few years the Hugos have become the exclusive playground of a clique—the “Mean Girls” of genre fiction—who have tried to use the Hugos as a political statement rather than a celebration of the incredible diversity of science fiction and fantasy. Instead of being awarded on merit, the Hugos were passed out to members of the clique, led by a powerful and influential publisher, and restricted to only those who towed the political line.
Cue the rebels.
A group of science fiction authors had enough. They founded “Sad Puppies 3,” a slate of deserving works and authors long passed-over by the Hugo clique. These works were not picked on politics, but on their merit.
The fans—the fans that have been neglected, insulted, or ignored by the ruling clique—won. The plucky rebels defeated the Empire.
Just like the great sci-fi epics, the rebels won—the Sad Puppies slate dominated the Hugo nomination process, along with another fan-driven slate. The old system of exclusion was broken by a flood of new entrants.
Of course, the Empire tried to strike back. As SF author Brad Torgersen put it:
It’s been most of a full day since the final Hugo award ballot was announced, for the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. If you’re tuned in to this thing — and if you’re reading this, you probably are — you’ve no doubt seen the small mountain of verbal outrage which has flooded forth. Because the SP3 slate didn’t just do well with nominating voters, it did overwhelmingly well. A raft of notions has been forwarded by different critics, to explain the “discrepancy” in the 2015 ballot. Most of the critical commentary takes the form of very earnest protestations focusing on violation of etiquette — though, again, SP3 broke no rules — and seem intent to make SP3 out as nothing more than a “fringe effort” by a minority.
. . .
You, gentle SP3 supporter, are not good enough. The refined arbiters of the field all say so. Your politics are wrong, your taste is wrong, your reading habits are wrong, your affiliations within fandom are wrong, you like the wrong things, you go to the wrong fan meetings, you are part of the wrong circles, you like the wrong publishers, and you vote wrong when you cast your ballots. You’ve been told this for years, in variously subtle and sometimes unintentional ways. But now your intellectual and moral betters in the field are getting more explicit about it.
But the self-appointer arbiters lost out this week. The fans—the fans that have been neglected, insulted, or ignored by the ruling clique—won. The plucky rebels defeated the Empire.
The Empire would rather blow up the Death Star than let it get captured—there’s an organized campaign to vote for “No Award” rather than let us heathens sully the Hugos with our doubleplus ungood badthink. However, even though nominations are closed, for $40 you can be entitled to vote on which work you believe deserves a Hugo. Anyone with a love of science fiction and fantasy is welcome—and the more people who vote for the Hugos, the more representative it will be of the entirety of fandom, not the ruling few.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Too often those of us on the right-leaning side of the political spectrum just throw our hands up and say that we can’t change the culture. We spent inordinate amount of time trying to change the political system while forgetting the culture moves politics, not the other way around. So many of the issue for which we advocate are cultural issues, not political ones.
Despite this, we barely show up to the fight in the culture wars. We give up the battle before it even begins, and the Empire takes over.
What the Sad Puppies campaign teaches us is that we can make a difference—we can change the culture. All we have to do is show up. We think that culture is built from the top down, when more often than not it comes from the bottom up.
How big a difference could be made if small book clubs featured more conservative or libertarian works? How big a difference could some political diversity make on local library boards? There are countless little opportunities for change that those on the right neglect because they become so focused on the narrow canvas of politics. Meanwhile, the other side began its “long march through the institutions” fifty years ago and have burrowed their way into nearly every facet of American life. What strategy is more effective?
Sad Puppies is an excellent reminder of the difference that individuals can make if they band together, work towards a goal, and execute. Cultures do not change overnight, but they can change.
As a die-hard science fiction fan, growing up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and reading Asimov, Bradberry, and Clarke, I loved stories about the brave rebels defeating the Empire. Those stories were designed to inspire, empower, and teach important lessons about courage, initiative, and determination. The best science fiction and fantasy holds a mirror up to our society and gives us the opportunity to look at our world from an entirely new perspective. The Sad Puppies movement is in the spirit of the best of the genre, and serves as a valuable reminder that we are only powerless if we choose to be so.
UPDATE: Entertainment Weekly published a shameless hit-piece on the Sad Puppies campaign. Glenn Reynolds has a compendium of links to the original EW piece and reactions from the Sad Puppies organizers. Of course, EW got it entirely wrong, slimed the Sad Puppies organization, and never bothered to ask for the other side. In other words, the typical practice of the mainstream ideological media. This is why groups like Sad Puppies not only need to exist, but must be willing to speak out against the agenda-driven journalism that would try to marginalize them.