‘Sad Puppies’ Hugo Awards Squabble Takes an Ugly Turn

by Gene Turnbow, station manager

The membership of the World Science Fiction Convention votes each year on the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy works and achievements of the previous year; namely, the much coveted Hugo Awards. The awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and were officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards until 1992. They have been organized and overseen by the World Science Fiction Society each year since 1953, and have been awarded every year since 1955. Over the years that the award has been given, the categories presented have changed; currently Hugo Awards are given in more than a dozen categories, and include both written and dramatic works of various types.

This year, for the first time ever, the Awards appear to have been hijacked by a small but very vocal voting block called the “Sad Puppies”, led by author Brad Torgersen, which has managed to get books from a small group of authors and publishers few had even heard of nominated for Hugo Awards.

The situation is further muddled by the appearance of another voting block known colloquially as the “Rabid Puppies”.  Three of the five top categories in the Hugos currently contain nominations promoted by Theodore Beale (pen name “Vox Day”). He is an author and owner of a tiny, little known publishing company in Finland. Day’s list of recommended nominations, by surprising coincidence consists mainly of books from his own publishing company, including three separate nominations for works by John C. Wright, an author notorious for his homophobic views. John C. Wright does not appear to be an author of any particular note, apart from the aforementioned homophobia.

While the methods used by the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies were technically legal and within the rules prescribed by the Word Science Fiction Society, the actions of both groups are widely viewed as aggressive, disruptive and in violation of the spirit of the Hugo Awards, where works are judged on their quality, not based purely on the perceived popularity of the authors.

Sasquan Guest of Honor David Gerrold is an outspoken critic of the efforts to hijack the Hugo Awards, yet has insisted that the fans not let the various Puppies subgroups ruin the moment for everyone else. Crowd psychology can be a powerful thing, though, and apparently science fiction writer Lou Antonelli succumbed. He sent a letter to the Spokane Police Department telling them that Worldcon Guest of Honor David Gerrold was “insane and a public danger and needs to be watched when the convention is going on”. Had the police acted on Antonelli’s written warning, it would have been classified as “SWATting”, a practice which is not only highly illegal and punishable by prison sentences, but can be considered an act of terrorism under the right conditions.

The Executive Committee of Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, has released the following statement:

The Executive Committee of Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, would like to address the matter of actions taken by Mr. Lou Antonelli with regards to one of our Guests of Honor, Mr. David Gerrold. On August 1st, Mr. Antonelli participated in a podcast in which he stated that he had written a letter to the Spokane Police Department, in which he stated to them that Mr. Gerrold was “insane and a public danger and needs to be watched when the convention is going on”.

Normally, online communications between members is not something in Sasquan’s purview to referee. However, Mr. Antonelli’s letter, which requested police action against Mr. Gerrold during the time of the convention, is within our purview. As such, we found that there was a strong possibility this act was a violation of our posted harassment policy[1], particularly if the letter had, in fact, been sent.

The Executive Committee then turned the matter over to our Operations Head, Ms. Robbie Bourget, who initiated formal proceedings in accordance with that policy. During these proceedings, it came to light that Mr. Antonelli had issued a formal apology to Mr. Gerrold and admitted culpability: he actually sent the letter, not merely claimed to have sent it.

We thoroughly reviewed all available data, including email from both involved parties, social media postings, discussions with key committee members, and so forth. The inescapable conclusion was that Mr. Antonelli had violated our Code of Conduct in this matter. The recommendation was to refund Mr. Antonelli’s membership and prohibit his entry to any convention location or function.

However, after the recommendation was made, Mr. Gerrold, as the aggrieved party, specifically requested that the Executive Committee set aside this recommendation on the grounds that Mr. Antonelli did apologize, is sending a retraction to the Spokane Police Department and because, as a Hugo Nominee, he deserves to attend the ceremony.

The Executive Committee has chosen to accept Mr. Gerrold’s request, and considers the matter closed as of this time. Ms. Bourget has spoken and corresponded with the Spokane Police Department, and they also consider the matter closed. We would like to thank Ms. Bourget for the calm professionalism she lent to the proceedings, and Mr. Antonelli and Mr. Gerrold for coming to a settlement that benefits not just them, but the Worldcon and its members.

[1] http://sasquan.org/code-of-conduct/

Antonelli has, in fact, retracted his statements to the Spokane Police Department, and apologized to Gerrold – but his lapse in judgment is still creating secondary aftershocks.  One of Antonelli’s publishers, Lakeside Circus, decided to decline publication of one of his stories as a result of his actions against Gerrold. Antonelli posted a note on Facebook about the editor there, Carrie Cuinn, and why he felt her decision was appropriate given what had happened – and apparently one or more people decided that was their cue to go after Carrie Cuinn in personal attacks in email, including rape and death threats.

As things stand now, Antonelli will be attending the Hugo Awards as a nominee, apologies having been made to both Gerrold and the Executive Committee, though he will be closely watched. The event stands as a cautionary tale, and the Executive Committee is purportedly discussing rules changes that would help prevent similar sequences of events from happening in the future.

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(Editor’s Note: It was pointed out that what Antonelli attempted to do was not technically “swatting.” While there is a technical difference between giving law enforcement agencies a fictional account of a critical situation is in progress and falsely warning them that one is likely to occur, the distinction is a slim one. The attempt to divert public services to handle a fictional threat is still illegal at both state and federal levels, and range in consequence from obstruction of justice to conveying false information with intent to alarm.

Secondly, it was pointed out that we had incorrectly conflated the Sad Puppies group with the Rabid Puppies group, and this was a fair statement. We have since corrected that oversight in the article.)

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4 Comments

  1. I thought that was a good call by the Executive Committee if there was no letter of apology ban Antonelli. Having the police watch Mr. Gerrold, could have brought unnecessary police notice to the convention.

  2. Johnny Coelacanth

    You may want to update this story with the following from Carrie Cuinn, detailing her experiences after she killed Antonelli’s story:

    http://carriecuinn.com/2015/08/10/a-statement-about-lou-antonelli-lakeside-circus-harassment-and-safety/

    “When he posted the letter, he didn’t mention I’d sent it before he posted his apology. He removed the line about me hearing the podcast. He also added the name of my magazine, and my title. In short, he shared it, but he shared a version of it, that he’d edited. His post garnered 30+ comments from his fans, saying I was a bitch, a tool of the SJW mob, I was retaliating after the fact (of his apology), I was uneducated and unfit to be an editor (because I’m going back to school). The letter was referenced in other conversations he had online (including at File 770), with similar comments.

    At no time did Mr. Antonelli correct anyone, or suggest they stop attacking me, even when some of the comments mentioned looking me up online, researching me, reading my blog, etc.”

  3. You’ve got a major inaccuracy here. You’re failing to differentiate between the Sad Puppies, led by author Brad Torgersen, and the Rabid Puppies, instigated by Theodore Beale aka Vox Day. The latter are a bunch of trolls who decided to jump on the Sad Puppies’ coattails. Ask any Sad Puppy supporter about Vox, and you’ll get the same response: “Not our circus, not our monkey.”

What do you think?