To summarize this series so far:
1. There is a monoculture problem in the traditional science
fiction and fantasy (SFF) print industry, and sales are shrinking. The number of publishers
is stagnant or falling. Advances are dropping and contract terms
have gotten insane. For contrast, the SFF media industry (typefied
by its conventions like DragonCon and ComicCon) is exploding in
2. This monoculture problem has several components, but from a
height, it's a sort of "channel capture" effect: The SFF convention
and awards infrastructure has embraced the notion that literary
SFF--especially that focused on race/gender identity themes--is the
"worthiest" sort of SFF and the sort that we all ought to read if
we're to be taken seriously as cultured beings.
3. People who used to read a great deal of SFF are rejecting
this "message pie" fiction (by which I mean fiction that puts
message and/or polemic first and story elements second) and are
either re-reading older works, moving off to other genres, or out
of recreational reading entirely.
4. Sarah Hoyt and several other writers have proposed a category
called The Human Wave, which would stand in opposition to the
current conventions of literary SFF, especially polemical literary
SFF. The Human Wave emphasizes SFF as entertainment, celebration
rather than denigration of the human spirit, plot, ideas, optimism,
and sense of wonder. I
endorse this without hesitation, and will have even more to say
about it in future entries.
5. Basically, there are too few hands on the levers of power in
the SFF universe. It's time to start disconnecting those levers and
dispersing that power. It's time to inject some genuine diversity
into SFF--not of authorship (we're already there) but of theme and
Part of that disconnection has been going on for some years:
Independent and self-publishing, enabled by improving ebook
technology and online stores like Kindle, are expanding their share
of the SFF market. In defiance of conventional wisdom, many indie
authors are making money, sometimes a lot of it. In fact, print
publishers have begun seeing the indies as a sort of farm team,
from which they call up the most popular players and offer them
print contracts. About month ago, SFWA announced some rule changes
allowing indie authors to become full members if they can prove
that they've sold a certain amount of work for a certain amount of
So change is happening, and indie publishing is behind most of
the change we've seen so far.
Which brings us at last to the matter of Sad Puppies. It's an
ancient question: whether to operate outside the current culture,
or from the inside. Reforming anything from the inside is tough,
because the Insider Alphas tend to arrange things so that change is
difficult, as well as the tendency for reformers to simply be
absorbed unless they arrive in overwhelming numbers.
Back in January 2013, Monster Hunter International
author Larry Correia, in the context of a tongue-in-cheek
rant about how he and other pulp-ish authors never get noticed by
critics or awards committees, said this:
For as little as $60 you can become a voting member of WorldCon
and nominate something awesome and filled with dragons, explosions,
guns, heroism, actual good and evil, and a plot where stuff
actually happens. And unlike Sarah McLachlan's sad puppy
commercial, your donation also gets you a whole big ton of free
eBooks and all of the nominated works, worth more than the cost of
For the next couple of months, Larry recommended a lot of works
he felt should be considered for the Hugos, not excluding his own.
He caught some predictable shit for that. It's
unclear how much the informal campaign changed the winners at
LoneStarCon 3, but Larry got some people on the ballot who'd never
been there before (like the formidable Toni Weisskkopf) and raised
awareness of a lot of very good stories that would not otherwise
have been on anybody's radar. Every one of these stories that I
hunted down would qualify as Human Wave SFF.
What Larry did is neither unique nor new. In fact, in the late
1970s and early 1980s I remember Mike Resnick sending MM paperbacks
of his books to literally every name in the SFWA directory. He
wasn't constantly chanting, "Vote for my books!" but he made damned
sure that anybody who was in a position to vote for him had one. I
had no trouble with that, and although I never voted for him, I did
read his books.
Fast forward a year. The Sad Puppies concept grew legs, got a
first-shot logo (Pugs! Why does it always have to be pugs!) and
became a serious and semi-organized thing rather than a wisecrack
in somebody's rant. According to Mike Glyer, Sad Puppies 2 placed
seven of its twelve recommendations on the final Hugo
ballot. To me, that's not mere success...that's beyond
And another year, bringing us to the current day. Sad Puppies 3
now has a logo you can put on a patch (see above) created by
"Artraccoon" Madison. The slate is much larger, and its coordinator
is now Brad R. Torgersen. Alas, I stumbled on all this right
about the deadline for memberships qualified to nominate for the
2015 Hugos at Sasquan in Spokane, so don't run off to try and get
in on it. (I'm generally too late or too early for things, so I'm
doubly not a wizard.) However, if before January 31 you were a
member of LonCon 3 (last year) Sasquan (this year) or MidAmericon
II (next year) you can recommend. Recommendations themselves are
open until March 10.
This is a classic example of reform attempted from the inside.
For all the foaming-at-the-mouth accusations of logrolling and
ballot box stuffing, nothing about the Sad Puppies campaign
violates the rules. What Larry and Brad are doing is in fact
keeping a shrinking Worldcon alive by bringing in both money and
new blood. An award with the prestige of the Hugos should not be
decided by a few hundred people, but by tens of thousands
of people. Otherwise it reflects neither quality nor popularity,
but is rather a straw poll by an in-crowd heavily influenced by a
handful of Insider Alphas.
Will it work? Depends on what you want from it. Seen as a
publicity stunt (as many do) it's already working, bigtime. Seen as
genuine reform, well, I'm less sure, as much as I'd like to see
that reform happen. Maybe it just needs a few more years to cook.
Many things do. I certainly wish it all success. It's already
tipped my decision in favor of attending MidAmeriCon II in
Kansas City in 2016.
However, if the goal is to popularize Human Wave SFF, there may
be better ways. I'll throw out some ideas when I continue this
series. For the time being, I need to take a breather.