The Complete Debarkle: from 1880 to 2020, by Camestros Felapton

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Part 1 of our Debarkle saga is estories [sic] about the past. Most of them take place this century but some of the precursors to the events in our saga take place in the Twentieth Century. I can’t hope to do justice to the full breadth of science fiction’s history but I will be looking at selected events from that history that have repercussions to later events. What follows in this chapter is a whistle-stop tour over many decades up to the early 1990s to just briefly touch on some elements of the past that will re-appear later. We’ll touch briefly on the roots of early fandom but mainly highlight some parts of US history that will be important later.

This is on the BSFA Awards long-list; a chronology and analysis of the Sad and Rabid Puppies, and their unsuccessful attempts to take over the 2015 and 2016 Hugo Awards, by the anonymous Australian blogger known as Camestros Felapton. I’ll be upfront and say that I vote for (almost) anything with my own name in it, and I am quoted half a dozen times here so it’s getting my vote to go on the BSFA short-list. In particular, it becomes clear that my own 2011 review, of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International was a major cause of resentment for him, the one thing he kept coming back to when complaining about mean people in SMOFdom. (At the time I wrote it, of course, I was not a SMOF at all; my involvement with Worldcons did not begin until the following year, and I was appointed as a future Hugo administrator for the first time only in 2015.)

I think in general Debarkle is fair, and attempts to understand both the Puppies and their opponents on their own terms. Throughout, the wider cultural and political context from which the Puppies emerged is linked to the specifics of the story – this includes Racefail, the Requires Hate affair and a bunch of other sf controversies, but also Gamergate, and the future Trump and Brexit victories of 2016.

After all that analysis, one is left a little mystified as to what the goal of the Sad Puppies actually was, once the founder Larry Correia had bowed out and his wounded pride was no longer a factor; the various mission statements made by Brad Torgersen and the Mad Genius Club are somewhat contradictory, to put it mildly. Torgersen is eloquent without actually being articulate, and this meant that a number of naïve, mostly right-wing fans with a vague political grievance threw their lot in with him, whereas other more sensible people took one look at his frothing blog posts and decided they’d seen enough.

As for the Rabid Puppies, they were a manifestation of Vox Day’s determined self-promotion and general evil intention of wrecking other people’s fun. (Vox Day has self-described as “evil” on numerous occasions, so I don’t feel that I am being judgemental here.) Some people saw the (very partial) success of the Rabid Puppy slate as proof of Vox Day’s cunning; in fact all it showed was that he was able to persuade his acolytes to throw away their money. His dismal lack of critical thinking skills, clear enough at the time from his political polemics, have been vividly demonstrated since by his gormless adoption of the QAnon / Trump mythos.

The book ends with the author’s “unified puppy theory” which attempts to explain Correia and Torgersen’s behaviour as manifesting a business development strategy, and it makes some sense, though really I think the briefest summary is that the principals simply lost the run of themselves, as we say back home.

The author has made the whole book available for free here. I wish they had spent a bit more time chasing down typos and tightening up the prose, and also I wish that they’d hyperlinked the footnotes, which would make for an easier read. But it’s very much worth getting, if you lived through that period, and it probably will stand as the best record of what exactly happened.

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