The puppies have returned. How could that sentence portend anything foul or wicked? And yet it does—science-fiction writer and publisher Vox Day’s followers are the least cute puppies that ever puppied. You may remember them from 2015, when they hijacked the nominations for that year’s Hugo Awards, the closest thing the sci-fi and fantasy community has to the Oscars. Convinced that the genre had eschewed swashbuckling space opera in favor of politically correct, scoldy garbage, these “activists” proposed a slate of “corrective” titles and whipped up enough support among a conservative niche of Hugo voters to get them on the ballot (pushing more “literary” and more “progressive” nominees off).
Campaigns for individual books or authors at the Hugos are nothing new. Yet the puppies’ ideologically driven movement, which drew on the tactics and talking points of Gamergaters, struck a lot of people as unprecedented. When the pups positioned their nominees as a rebuke to the women, people of color, and LBGTQ folks seeking a place in the science-fiction/fantasy world, that coalition struck back. Voters opted to give “no award” in the five categories wholly overtaken by puppy nominees.
Unlike men, not all puppies are created equal. The especially virulent Rabid Puppies, led by unsavory bigot Vox Day, who is extremely paranoid about Aztecs, have made it their mission to boot SJWs (“social justice warriors”) out of science fiction and fantasy. The Sad Puppies at least pretend to a more moderate agenda: They’d like to see the genre recover its adventurous, upbeat roots. (In practice, though, this means spending less time fretting over diversity and discrimination.) Notable Sad Puppies include authors Brad Torgerson and Larry Correia. Notable Rabid Puppies include, of course, Vox Day, whose noxious beliefs and writings could sustain whole religions of malevolent psychosis. He’s called the award-winning black novelist N.K. Jemisin an “ignorant half-savage,” adding that “unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males.” Day has also deplored women’s suffrage and suggested that marital rape is an oxymoron, as “marriage grants consent on an ongoing basis.”
So now it is 2016, and the saga continues. This time, in an effort to distance themselves from last year’s bad press, the Sad Puppies have published a list of “recommendations” rather than flogging their own ballot. But the Rabid Puppies are madder than ever. Their campaign has resulted in 64 out of the 81 titles they put forward being shortlisted. One of these books is called “Space Raptor Butt Invasion,” by erotica scribe Chuck Tingle, author of such science fiction pearls as “Taken by the Gay Unicorn Biker” and, most recently, “Slammed in the Butt by My Hugo Award Nomination.” (Audible narration is available for all three. For the more politically-minded, Tingle also offers “Feeling the Bern in My Butt.”) Writes Day on his blog: “Let’s face it, there are just three words to describe the only event that might happen in 2016 that I can imagine would be more spectacularly awesome than ‘Space Raptor Butt Invasion’ winning a Hugo Award this year, and those three words are ‘President-elect Donald Trump.’”
As Michael Schaub observes in the Los Angeles Times, the Puppies’ self-mythology here as Hugo provocateurs doesn’t totally hold up. “Tingle is a popular figure among a wide range of readers,” he notes, “not just Puppy-affiliated ones.” A fair number of science fiction and fantasy folks seem delighted, not offended, by the Butt bard’s success. Yet other nominations—including several for Day himself, one an essay called “SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police”—fall more neatly into gross men’s rights activist territory. One question remains: How do actual puppies feel about all this? Surely not very good at all.