Last night I was made aware of two things: that the Sad Puppy 4 Recommendation List has been released and that I am on it, for my novella Speak Easy.
Yes, these are the same Sad Puppies that dominated fandom conversation through most of last year, and whose slates resulted in so much ink spilt, and so many No Awards given out. Yes, I am still the evil SJW Queen Bee Persian Cat Who the Hell Does She Think She Is that I was last year in the eyes of this group. I am absolutely not going to re-hash the arguments on Sad or Rabid Puppies right now. You guys know how to Google. I suggest File770 for excellent coverage.
My first reaction–and perhaps not my best reaction–was anger and confusion. I genuinely do apologize for posting my first reaction to the internet–I should know better by now. This is me, a good sleep later, trying to sort it all out logically.
I was upset because I wasn’t asked whether I was okay with being put on this list. I had thought I remembered SP saying they would ask authors for permission in the future, but it’s since been pointed out to me that my memory, as with all human cognition, is faulty, and the truth is the opposite–they, in fact, pledged not to ask permission or remove names on request.
I was immediately attacked on Twitter for this anger and confusion–aren’t I an ungrateful, horrible person for not being happy and honored that people liked my work? Aren’t I insulting my readers? Aren’t I trying to exclude certain opinions because I don’t agree with them politically? Aren’t the Puppies showing good faith by including such obviously SJW authors as myself, John Scalzi, Alyssa Wong, Nnedi Okorafor, and Ann Leckie? Shouldn’t I just sit down and shut up? Aren’t I actually the worst?
And it occurs to me that I would feel far less anger and confusion if one single person had calmly and without rancor said to me: “Hey, last year was a clusterfuck all around. This year we’re trying to put all that behind us and do a straight recommendation list. That’s all that’s going on.” But instead, it was the same instant name-calling and attacks that went down last time.
So I spent the night trying to get my thoughts in order on this. Because, yes, if you strip away all the context of the Sad Puppies campaigns, it’s just a recommendation list, and I was happy enough to be on the Locus List (which doesn’t ask permission), so I should simply be joyful that people liked Speak Easy enough to recommend others take a look at it. A recommendation list, as we have been saying all along, is not a slate.
But you can’t strip away the context. Context is content. Context is everything.
I promised last year not to allow my name on any slate, for any reason, in perpetuity. Which means that if SP4 is, somehow, a slate, it would be hypocritical of me to shrug and say I’m cool with it just because my name happens to be on it. This is where I get stuck, because I feel there is a moral morass here. Call me old-fashioned: when I give my word, it still means something to me. This puts me in an incredibly difficult position, from which there is no easy extrication.
The problem is, I spent a year listening to how the Puppies are Master Strategists. You can’t blame me for doing a Perception Roll and looking for traps. And that is my fear. That, with apologies to Admiral Akbar, it’s a trap.
I don’t want to be anyone’s shield. I want any nomination to be about my work and my work alone. I don’t want to be used to add legitimacy to a slate, I don’t want to be used to whitewash the history of a movement that, at the very minimum, has behaved poorly and rudely toward a large number of people, including me, my loved ones, and my colleagues. I don’t want to be fodder for a “we all know the first five are the real slate” strategy. I don’t want to be used as a gotcha!, forced to withdraw in order to keep my moral house in order and make room for more works along the lines of “Safe Space as Rape Room” and “Sad Puppies Bite Back” or remain on the list and force a conversation about No Awarding so that the Puppies can watch the people they targeted last year get No Awarded or call us all hypocrites at large for not doing it–victory declared at any result.
I don’t want to be used. Hashtag Not Your Shield. I want my work to be my work, and that’s it. If I get nominated, I want to know it happened fairly. That it was only about people liking my work.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s what’s happening. They seem to have done everything people said they should do to make it a recommendation list and not a slate. It’s democratic, it’s open, there are either more or less than five recs for every slot. The Rabid Puppy list has almost nothing in common with the Sad Puppy list.
But it’s absurd to get angry at someone for thinking there might be something more to it. After all the talk about manipulation and strategy, all the insults flung and accusations levied, this is the result. It is hard to trust. And it is impossible to just pull the tablecloth out from under the Sad Puppies and leave the flowers and the silver still standing. The Puppies are a political group. They specifically did what they did last year to make “SJW heads explode.” Members have engaged in racists, homophobic, and sexist rhetoric. They have stated that the last several years of Hugos, during which I won and was nominated, were a lie and a farce, only existing due to affirmative action.
But many members did not engage in that rhetoric. The relationship between Sad and Rabid was always fluid, strange, and half-obscured. Many people simply wanted more populist work on the ballot, and they had every right to want that. Every right to have their voice heard–just not to the exclusion of all other voices. No group is monolithic.
But the Sad Puppy name is inextricably entwined with that history. Remember why the Puppy was Sad in the first place. You can’t just separate that past and say it’s all fine now. You certainly can’t, as some have in messages to me, say there was never anything wrong with it and everyone else was evil. At least in terms of what I’ve seen on social media in the last 24 hours, Puppies still want to fight, still want to accuse, still don’t want to say anything in the ball park of “Hey, it’s not like that” and explain things in a non-inflammatory way. This worries me. This makes me think about Admiral Akbar.
So what do I do? Honestly, I still don’t know. My stomach hurts. At the moment, it really does look like people just liked my book. Anyone could recommend something, after all. Locus doesn’t need my permission and neither does anyone else, so requiring it from the Puppies alone, as long as it is not a slate, would be strange. I’ve been on some WEIRD rec lists in my time, I tell you what. And I will absolutely not dismiss readers because of the URL where their desires are expressed.
It all comes down to whether this recommendation list is a list or a slate.
Right now, it doesn’t look like a slate. Right now, it looks like a list complied by people with extremely wide-ranging tastes and interests. Right now, I’m inclined to try to mend fences across fandom in whatever little way I can by giving them the benefit of the doubt that this is all in good faith–because I want to be given the benefit of the doubt that I act in good faith. So for right now, that’s what I’m going to do. I am going to believe in the better angels of our–and Puppy–nature. I’m going to choose to believe that they looked at the thousand suggestions of ways to recommend books that would not run afoul of the spirit of the Hugos and adjusted their methods accordingly. I’m going to choose to believe that the political rhetoric of the Puppy movement is a thing of the past, and from here on out, it will be about what each and every one of us said it should be about–good books. Nothing else.
If this changes, if all that ugliness comes roaring back and it becomes about something other than the content of books, I will change my mind and very quickly. But for right now, I have to try to believe that things can get better. This is my Pollyanna moment. I sincerely hope I don’t regret it.
If you take anything away from all of this it should be merely that Hugo nominations close on March 31st. Nominate what you love, don’t think about anything else. Love is all that matters, in the end.