The Puppy Kicker’s Prat

Every cliquish group has to have a prat. You know what they are like. They are the ones who go to the extra effort to make sure everybody knows that he is aligned with the “right people” by constantly maligning and disparaging the “wrong people” In this case, the Puppy Kicker’s biggest prat is Damien Walter. Now there has been a lot of competition for Puppy Kicker biggest prat, but through and through Damien has come through in his columns in the Guardian. His latest is no exception.

He starts off thus:

For the last few years, the Hugo awards for science fiction have been campaigned against by a group of writers and fans calling themselves the Sad Puppies – mostly male, very white, and overwhelmingly conservative. Unhappy with sci-fi’s growing diversity, the Puppies have deliberately block-voted for certain titles to get them nominated for Hugos at the expense of a wider field. They say it is their goal to “poke the establishment in the eye” by nominating “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy-handed message fic”. I say it is to sponsor awful writers.

Now let take a look at the leaders of the Sad Puppies. So far, the Sad Puppies campaigns have been led by Larry Corriea, who is of Portuguese descent and thus by the usual definition, white, Brad Torgersen who has mixed marriage, not that matter one bit, and Kate Paulk, who I’ve met and is definitely not a man. In any case, from my standpoint, being as white as you can get, as much a member of the “privileged” as you can get do any of them meet the criteria that the oh so tolerant Damien sets? No, not really. Not that that bothers me one little bit. I think that all of the above are great people even if I’m having arguments with Kate right now that have nothing to do with the Puppies. But as far as Damien is concerned all that matters is that the Puppies nominated stuff that wasn’t to his elite tastes. Back to Damien.

The Puppies have two criteria for what they deem excellence: does it turn a buck? And has the author dared to say anything, ever, that they disagree with? This, paired with their conspiracy theories about some big sci-fi publishers, means that they tend to champion mostly self-published authors. Nothing about quality – though you don’t need an in-depth knowledge of sci-fi to understand that a short story called Space Raptor Butt Invasion (yes, really) has not arrived on the Hugo lists because of its calibre.

Wrong, and wrong. The puppies use the fact that a story turns a buck to mean that big bunches of people want to read it. That’s the one, the only criteria that any puppy uses. Is the story something that people want to read? Sales is a pretty good indication of that. As for author’s disagreeing with the Puppies, well look at the authors that Puppies have nominated that have said right up front that they disagreed with the Puppies. They still got noms. We don’t care that an author agrees with any political view or not as long as the story is great. As for conspiracy theories about the big Publishers, no. It’s no conspiracy theory when editors and other people employed com out and say that they are working toward “diversity.” It’s also not a conspiracy that the Traditional publisher numbers are tanking. As for SRBI, well that was a Vox Day innovation and well, can’t anybody take a joke? Though considering some of the stories that the Puppy Kickers have nominated and voted to win in the past, SRBI would have to be really bad to reach the high level of “quality” that the Kickers have provided. Back to Damien.

If you find meaning in straight-to-video Dolph Lundgren films, then Larry Correia’s novels will be your kind of read. Correia, accountant-turned-author-turned-Sad-Puppies-creator, kicked off his Monster Hunter series with Monster Hunter International, about an accountant whose boss turns into a monster. So he shoots him. In fact, much of the Monster Hunter series relies rather heavily on people the hero doesn’t like turning into monsters … so he can shoot them.

Sadly, Correia’s books are not quite awful enough to be good. They’re just mediocre. That’s fine – Dolph Lundgren movies are also often mediocre, but plenty of people like them. But did Lundgren’s Masters of the Universe deserve to take the 1987 Oscar over Oliver Stone’s Platoon? I don’t think so – and in that same way, Correia’s novels in no way merit consideration for the Hugos (thankfully, he only made the 2014 longlist).

Apparently he didn’t read very deep into MHI. Otherwise he would know that shooting the boss was not terribly effective. Throwing him out the window, on the other hand, was. And in MHI not all the people turn into monsters and get shot, not everybody who gets shot is a monster and some monsters don’t get shot. What makes MHI more than just a shoot em up is the levels of moral ambiguity and the various character trying to make their way through very difficult situations. Not all the people in MHI are good and not all the monster are bad. There’s so much going on there and Damien should take the time to find out what. Anyway, back to Damien.

Dave Freer’s Changeling Island, shortlisted for this year’s inaugural Dragon awards, is all about story – which is fortunate, because sentences as thoroughly mangled and amateurish as Freer’s won’t be winning any prizes (at least I hope not). Open with a strong start, they say; now read Changeling Island’s opening:

It had been the most terrifying, miserable day of Tim Ryan’s whole miserable life. He’d just done it to show Hailey. Because … because she said he was too scared. He was. Every time he tried anything it always went wrong. Horribly wrong. And he wasn’t a thief. Well, he didn’t want to be. It was one of the few thing things his dad ever really got angry with him about. And then he’d only been a little five-year-old kid helping himself to a chocolate bar in a store. But Hailey … she said … and he’d do anything to get her.”

Here’s a clue, Damien, it’s called style and characterization. Dave is deliberately mangling the sentences because he’s showing us the inside of the mind of a confused teenaged boy. The mangling is the inside of Tim’s head and when you are in that state, things get mangled. That’s how you use the language to bring the character to life. I’ve actually sat in a reading with Dave and if you think this was mangled look at some of his other characters. Well back to Damien.

Within the Puppy movement, John C Wright is considered to be its resident intellectual colossus and was nominated three times for the 2015 best novella category (which eventually went to no one). He is hugely influenced by the Inklings, particularly CS Lewis. But in comparison to Lewis, whose metaphysical investigations were built up from wide-reading during a lengthy education, Wright reads like a first-year humanities undergrad who refuses to read beyond a small pool of comforting favourites, writing essay after essay (or novel after novel) only to demonstrate how much he knows. Consider this dialogue from Wright’s The Phoenix Exultant:

Rhadamanthus said, ‘There is a tension between the need for unity and the need for individuality created by the limitations of the rational universe. Chaos theory produces sufficient variation in events, that no one stratagem maximises win-loss ratios. Then again, classical causality mechanics forces sufficient uniformity upon events, that uniform solutions to precedented problems is required. The paradox is that the number or the degree of innovation and variation among win-loss ratios is itself subject to win-loss ratio analysis.

This goes on, for page after page. The characters are no more than ciphers for Wright’s ranting, and what story exists is only glimpsed in momentary fragments between diatribes. After long enough reading Wright, you start to suspect that he, like most of these authors, simply can’t help himself, vomiting on to the page whatever passes through his head.

Now I haven’t read Wright’s book, but a quick look at the pages available on Amazon shows that he’s going for a culture that is deep into superficial sophistication. Writing that way, and having the character use long flowery language enhances that and helps to create the atmosphere and draw the reader into the story, which is the whole point. I would expect people from the culture to use the language of Eliza Doolittle any more than I would expect vice versa.

Damien goes on to rant about the all the great stuff coming and complaining that the Puppies have no right to write anything because they are so shoddy, or something, let alone get published, because the mere existence of authors with different views offend his sensibilities.

Which is the core of Damien’s pratness. He cannot abide a world where things he disapproves of exist. It isn’t enough that he not read the stuff written by Puppies, the Puppies should not be allowed to exist simply because he is offended by their writing. He will not be satisfied with the marketplace making it’s choices, he must insist that the only choices that are available are his. By what right does he get to decide that? Anyway here’s how he finishes.

But the Sad Puppies don’t want any of their books to end up on bestseller lists or TV screens. It’s the same frustrating paradigm that British MP Michael Gove hit upon when he said that people were sick of experts, or what Donald Trump plays upon when he rails against “professional politicians”. We’re seeing the Dunning-Kruger effect played out on a mass scale, and the Sad Puppies are just a speck in that wider problem.

Since all of the authors that Damien is railing against have been published for years and as far as I know Damien has only published his screeds in the Gruaniad, I think we need an new level of high and low people. Of course the Puppy Kicker have proven time and again that nobody goes lower than they do.


  1. MishaBurnett · August 22, 2016

    Now, I will admit that I couldn’t finish Monster Hunter International. I didn’t like the narrator and when I find myself hoping that the guy who is telling the story gets eaten in the next scene it’s time to stop reading. However, it’s obvious that a lot of people do like the book and the ones that follow it. I am fairly sure that if Larry Correia reads this comment (and he might) he’s not going to lose any sleep over it.

    Nor am I going to say that the MHI fans are wrong or bad or stupid. It’s a matter of taste, and that’s what the publishing business is all about. Provide a product that a fair number of readers are willing to pay for, and you’ll make money. Make a lot of money, and it’s a good indication that you’re providing a product that a lot of people like.

    This doesn’t mean that works that don’t reach a lot of people are bad or stupid, either. Sometimes, sure, a work doesn’t get read because it is poorly written. Sometimes it simply doesn’t appeal to a large number of readers. But the Hugo awards were originally conceived as a fan award–that is, a recognition of those works that appealed to the majority of readers. It hasn’t been that since the mid-1980s, in my opinion, and it seems clear that it isn’t going to go back to that.


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