Report: A presentation of fan history and parallels to recent events

While attending LTUE this week I had the pleasure of attending an academic presentation by Dave Doering, the founder of that excellent writing symposium. He described himself as a fan historian, and quipped that when he started LTUE at BYU, he felt like a “science fiction missionary.” As he prepared to deliver the presentation, I asked for permission to take notes with the intent of presenting it to you, gentle readers, and he gave it to me, for which I am thankful, because it was deeply interesting and I think you may enjoy it as well.

“A Not-too-Distant Mirror: Science Fiction Fan Exclusion at the 1939 WorldCon and 2016 WorldCon” 

While we here are most familiar with the events of 2016, since the Mad Genius Club writers were largely involved in some parts of that, Dave Doering saw it as not the first “crisis of identity in science fiction and fantasy.” He saw strong parallels between events at the very first WorldCon, and the one that happened nearly eighty years later. To create the presentation, he drew from the Hevelin Fanzine Collection housed at BYU, and his own service on the committee of the Spokane WorldCon.

WorldCon 1939: NYCon was the first world convention, not because it was international in scope, but because it was held at the same time as the World’s Fair also in New York City. It was held in Caravan Hall, which no longer stands, but he was able to track down images of the building, the hall inside where the convention was held, and even of attendees, seated on folding wooden chairs neatly attired in (largely) three piece suits. To a modern congoer, it could hardly be more alien looking.

However, the convention was hardly homogenous despite a mere 200 attendees. There were two factions, the Futurians, and the New Fans. Among the Futurians were names to reckon with in the SFF world: Fred Pohl, Don Wollheim, Damon Knight, Asimov, Blish, and others. Dave commented, “We can say we’re a product of them,” the Futurians. However, the conflict arose as the Futurians supported communism, and thought Fandom should, as well. They also thought the New Fans were making a power grab for the nascent fandom.

The New Fans included Sam Moskowitz, the chair of the first WorldCon at the tender age of 19. His cohort included David Kyle, Julius Schwartz, James Taurasi (only 22), and Will Sikora (the elder of the group at 25).

The Futurians and the New Fans butted head at Newark, in 1938, while attending the then-named NationalCon. Through use of parliamentary procedures, one group thwarted the other. Thus, as WorldCon I commenced, tensions were already high. The New Fans, in control of the con committee, were concerned that the Futurians were going to cause a disruption at the con. They attempted to extract a pledge from the Futurians that they would not cause any trouble, but while some promised, others, like Wollheim, said they could only speak for themselves, not the group as a whole. Reluctantly the Futurians were given entrance.

However, very shortly after this, a pamphlet was discovered in circulation using inflammatory language. The infamous Yellow Pamphlet started “Beware the Dictatorship!” and continued to warn in general terms of ‘any movement to coerce you.’ The Futurians were blamed for this pamphlet the New Fans interpreted as targeting them, and they were removed from the con. The banned Futurians then went to a nearby cafeteria and had a pseudo-con. The bitter feelings would last for years.

However, the Futurians had nothing to do with the pamphlet. It had been printed up and circulated as a prank by a young fan, David Kyle, who because of the furor, decided not to talk about it. He wouldn’t confess his involvement for years.

And with the common theme of exclusion of fans, by fans, we come to Larry Correia and his posts in 2013, laying out his initial thoughts about the Hugo Awards, and then Brad Torgersen agreeing that the winners of the Hugo were too literary overall. Larry and Brad, Doering told his audience, wanted to change the Hugo to what the average reader liked. This was, after all, the original intent of the Hugo, to vote for what you really liked. But bloc voting wasn’t really a thing at that point. However, if look at the numbers, Doering pointed out with slides of raw data, you can see that in some categories a mere 30 votes would win you an award. It seemed a tempting opportunity to be able to influence the Hugos.

Doering bluntly stated, based on the data, that “Vox Day was just a rabble rouser”

Up until 2015, when the Rabid Puppies movement was initiated by an upstart, the Sad Puppies movement was slowly gaining ground. However, Dave showed with his data that although the internet buzz was all about worry over VD’s supporters overwhelming the Hugo system, if you look at the raw data from the Best Editor votes from 2014 versus 2015, when the seldom-used No Award won, the data reveals the truth. Out of nearly 5000 votes, a mere 166 of them were awarded to the leader of the Rabid Pups.

So what does Doering take away from his analysis of the two exclusions, seemingly so similar on the surface? Prescriptive vs Descriptive. Or in other words, ‘what should be read?’ Versus ‘what sells?’ As defined through award presentation. The Futurians of the 1939 WorldCon were in favor of the prescriptive model, with their drive to support communism as a group, and to advocate for the spread of communism through fandom activism. On the other hand, the Sad Puppies wanted a descriptive award to just say ‘we’re fans, too!’

And what became of fandom in the wake of Sasquan 2015? Dave Doering thinks that the Sad Puppy legacy was good for fandom. They led to the development of a truly descriptive award, the Dragons. They tripped the number of voters at WorldCon. They led to the changes in voting rules.

But when he talked about that evening, when he was sitting in the audience at the awards ceremony of Sasquan 2015, his voice turned sad: “There was a feeling… when a cheer went up. There was a viciousness that I’d never seen before.”

52 thoughts on “Report: A presentation of fan history and parallels to recent events

  1. Everything old is new again, it sounds like. Statists (collectivists) with ideas about what people should be reading and doing collided with individualists who want to read and do what they enjoy reading and doing.

    I wonder if there was an intermediate phase in, hmm, the 50s-early70s where the more individualist New Fans had become the dominate power, and the younger set were the collectivist opposition? Or did fandom (the Fen especially) scoot into a more collectivist-tolerant outlook through the 1980s?

    Thanks for the notes, Cedar, and for the excellent presentation, Mr. Doering!

    1. The Statists are probably feeling pretty invulnerable now; there are maybe 1/10 of the publishing markets for SF now than there were in 1939, and they control almost all of them.

      On the other hand, “AMAZON!!!” is not only the Great Enemy, it’s positively infested with Puppies…

  2. I don’t really see much parallel between 1939 and 2016, to tell the truth. In 1939 the Con organizers expelled a bunch of authors based on something the authors themselves didn’t even do. But it was one tiny group vs. another (one or two dozen people in all). Getting thrown out is a big deal–much worse if one is expelled unjustly.

    In 2016, no one was expelled from the Con. Instead, the whole voting membership (thousands of people) refused to give Hugo Awards to candidates promoted by a small group (one or two hundred people) that took advantage of a flaw in the nominating rules. Seeing your preferred candidate lose a fair vote is not a big deal, or at least it shouldn’t be.

    1. You are, as per usual, confusing the Sad Puppies with the rabid. Two separate groups, the smaller you refer to riding the coattails of the larger. I realize you have an internal narrative that makes you comfortable. That does not make it true.

      The data indicated through no award that there was a slim majority of voters who were afraid of the influence of the new fans embodied by the Sad Puppy movement. We know from your history here you would preferred to keep the Hugo award a prescriptive one: vote only for books that promote a world view you find appealing. The rise of the Dragon awards show that the majority of Fandom does not, in fact, agree with you.

      1. In 2015, the Rabid Puppies were a much larger group than the Sad Puppies. At least in terms of the Hugo Nominations, over 70% of the votes came from Rabids, not Sads. In 2016, the Sad Puppies pretty much disappeared. Not sure why you’d think otherwise–I thought people on both sides agreed with that.

        Regarding the no-awards in the final votes, I don’t see how you can talk about “a slim majority.” The votes were overwhelming–thousands vs. hundreds. The numbers are really easy to check online.

        As for the Dragons, they’re still very small, although they do seem to be gaining traction. However, as they get more participation, they also are becoming more mainstream.

        Ultimately, readers care a lot more about stories than they do about authors. They vote for the stories the liked, and they don’t care all that much about the politics of the authors. What they really hate is people telling them they have to vote for bad stories just because of the politics of the authors. This is true regardless of the type of politics involved.

        If everyone would focus on stories and not authors, fandom would be a lot more peaceful. (Albeit maybe more boring?) 🙂

        1. So when Scalzi won a Hugo for Red Shirts which is really a Star Trek fanfic it wasn’t because his fans like him and his politics but because it was a good book? I didn’t know his politics when I bought the book in HB but I never came close to finishing it. It was poor ST fanfic.

    2. So basically your opinion is still that moving the goalposts to keep the rules changing in no way is deliberately exclusionary, and that the people following the Locus recommended nominee list to the letter doesn’t represent bloc voting, even now?


    3. Greg, come back and talk to us about fair when you can explain how it was fair of those same “majority of voters” to go to publishers and editors and try to get authors fired or forced to toe the “right line”. Come back and talk about fair when you can explain how they were fair by manipulating the rules to make sure the unwashed masses couldn’t take away their darling awards ever again. Came back and talk about fair when there was a mass campaign to prevent authors and editors from winning simply because the “majority” didn’t like who nominated them. Frankly, I’m tired of your holier than thou attitude and the way you continue to conflate Rabids with Sads.

      1. Conflating Sads and Rabids is sooo 2015. The new hotness is implying that Sad Puppies was targeted at N K Jemisin.

            1. Someone famous for being famous, or so it is starting to seem. (I do like the cover art on her books, but I just couldn’t get into the stories themselves. De gustibus and all that.)

        1. Given the unceasing bile flowing our way, I find it likely that the three Hugos for Nora was targeted at Sad Puppies.

          Nora apparently thinks so too, hence her salty acceptance speech in 2018. Tired of being a diversity hire.

    4. What I find hilarious Greg is that you’ve been thrown under the bus already, and labeled a Sad Puppy Supporter yourself. Yet here you are, still singing out of the Hugo Hymnal.

      We were all here in the middle of it. We remember what happened. Unlike some other groups who shall not be named, history does not start fresh every morning with us.

      1. @Phantom
        Telling the truth (or at least what you believe is the truth) is unpopular in lots of places. That doesn’t make me stop doing it, though. I just try to always be polite about it. And if I learn I’m wrong, I’ll admit to it and change my tune. I still believe that honesty is the best policy, but I’ll admit it does make you familiar with what the underside of the bus looks like. 🙂

        This caught my eye: “how it was fair of those same “majority of voters” to go to publishers and editors and try to get authors fired or forced to toe the “right line.” I agree that that wouldn’t be fair, but this is the first I’ve heard that anyone did that. I certainly didn’t do anything like that. What happened?

        I think I’ve been very consistent in saying that stories should be evaluated on their contents and without regard to who their authors or editors were. I took heat from people on File 770 in 2016 when I gave a 5-star review to a story from Vox Day’s slate. If the 2015 slate had been full of stories like that, I think things might have gone very differently. We’ll never know.

    5. Note that you’re also accepting the Futurians version of the Exclusion Act. According to the Moskowitz faction, the Futurians chose to self-exclude themselves, since they”d been offered admission if they guaranteed there would be no disruption of the Worldcon.

  3. It was the end of August 1939, Stalin and Hitler were allies, and the Futurians (many of whom were Jewish) were openly supporting the bad guys. People do not emphasize these points, because most of these folks changed their tune. But the fact remains that nice guys like Isaac Asimov were hanging out in coffee shops with supporters of mass murderers. Many of the murdered would be their own relatives, and the relatives of other fans.

    Also, it appears that they could not distinguish a prank pamphlet from the work of a genuine fellow traveler. So they were pretty low on actual social awareness nous, while thinking they were smart and moral.

    1. I hate to say this, but the more I hear and read about Asimov over the years the more he sounds like Marion Zimmer Bradley and several other people I know of: a truly and deeply loathsome creature who for some reason is defended by everyone.

      I can remember being told years ago when I still went to PhilCon about how arrogant and condescending he was, how he gloried in his ignorance of subjects he pretended to be an expert on, his petty cruelties, and his love of groping random women.

      Why did anyone ever like that toad?

      1. no, its worse: he was a true believer that thought that the end of the Foundation series was a good thing and a good ending.

        1. Actually, Asimov said that it was getting harder and harder to write it and keep it consistent with what he’d already written. Then one day a fan turned up with a list of inconsistencies that he’d apparently generated by repeated close reading and cross checking. Deciding it was hopeless, he put it aside. (This was before the later books that tried to unify the Robot stories and the Foundation stories.)

          So I don’t think he really thought it had ended at a good point. He really did start off with the idea that it would end with the establishment of the new empire. He just wasn’t able to pull it off.

          1. And his publisher threw lots of money at him if he would write more robot or Foundation stories, since they figured (correctly) that such books would sell millions of copies.

            Very few professional writers skip writing books that will sell that many copies.

        2. Well, there was some sarcasm…. But I think he was a personable writer and non-fiction teacher; so people tended to overlook how he acted in real life, thinking it was a social awkwardness thing.

          And he was 17 or so, at the first Worldcon.

          1. Like most writers of that era, he came in through fandom, and never stopped being a fan, as well as a pro.

  4. The other thing to note was that the Futurians were told that they could attend Worldcon if they did not being along their pamphlet. Since they had no pamphlet, obviously this was an easy promise to keep! And indeed, they did all wander over there separately. (Everybody was allegedly there by the time they started screening Metropolis, IIRC.)

  5. “But when he talked about that evening, when he was sitting in the audience at the awards ceremony of Sasquan 2015, his voice turned sad: “There was a feeling… when a cheer went up. There was a viciousness that I’d never seen before.””

    YES. That right there, that was it for me too.

    I watched that whole ceremony start to finish on the live stream. That was not a group of people celebrating science fiction and enjoying being nerds together. That was a mob of pissed-off partisans cheering No Award as if it was a great moral victory.

    So if anybody reading this was there that night, cheering for No Award and booing Sad Puppy nominees, I just want y’all to know, I got the communication. Loud and clear.

    Prescriptive vs. descriptive is a good way to couch the divide. People who feel entitled to prescribe what the rest of us should be reading, that’s WorldCon to a “T”. And what we should be reading is Grimdark Communism, pretty much. That part hasn’t changed since 1939.

    1. “The personal -is- the political!”

      It occurs to me…this is what the self appointed Enlightened Ones think truth, justice, and goodness -are-. This horrible, horrible hatred of anyone anything other than their current hot button trigger.

    2. Jesus! ….. is my Savior.

      How the legions of the perpetually offended seriously piss me off. Most of them being beneficiaries of Western civilization; it simply boggles the mind that they could have such sheer hatred of the civilization that’s given them everything. Sure, there have been atrocities and missteps along the way. But just because a slave was used to build the White House, (I don’t know if one was or not) doesn’t mean we have to burn the building to the ground, sow the ashes with salt, and cap it with 10 feet of Neutronium.

      I’m white, I’m male, I’m straight, I’m middle-aged or older, I’m comfortably middle class. The insinuation that I’m comfortably middle class only because of White Supremacy or White Privilege I find to be offensive. The only privilege I had was two loving parents being present in my life for 15 years, who set examples of hard work to achieve goals, and instilled a love of reading from darn near infancy which left me in good standing for school. I went to no special schools, no special treatment. My father was a high school dropout who enlisted in the Navy for 4 years, got his GED and electronic radar specialist rating, and went to work for GE for the rest of his life. My mother was the daughter of a dairy farmer, graduated high school, and worked as a medical transcriptionist for a year before meeting my father. I stayed in school, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, joined the AF after Vietnam, screwed up, straightened up, got my college degree through night classes while working full time around the world.

      Those things aren’t privilege. Those are the standard expectation for all people in America who are willing and able to work for it. I don’t care if you’re white, black, yellow, red, or chartreuse with purple polka dots, your parents could come from equally humble beginnings to equal success, and you could be in the same place I am now, or better, on your own efforts.

      “Privileged” is Progressive-speak for, “We want to use the force of government to rob you and your entire family into destitution for our own enrichment.”

      1. That’s a point I’ve been trying to make to a lot of people. “Privilege” isn’t being able to ask the police what’s wrong without worrying they might shoot you. That’s the right of any citizen, or it should be. For a kid, having enough to eat, parents who love you, and a decent school to attend shouldn’t be “privilege” either; those things should be standard. The fact that they’re not always is cause for concern and even action, but calling the desired result “privilege” is unhelpful.

        We used to say “count your blessings” to remind ourselves that other people have it worse than we do. I don’t think “privilege” has been a successful replacement.

  6. From what I saw at WorldCon at the time- San Antonio was the last time I went and probably the last time, period- there’s a segment that really enjoyed having a fight on their hands. They enjoyed having an enemy, even if the enemy was not really the kind of existential threat they think it is.

  7. i’m not going to comment about the Sasquan events, since many of the people here were involved, and can bring their won perspectives. Certainly, I’ve expressed several ideas of my own about this, in debate at the Worldcon Business Meeting, where I am on public record as having opposed many of the Constitutional changes that were put in by people opposed to the Sad Puppies activities over a number of years (I generally lost, although I was able to help defeat the worst of the changes). Since my speeches at the Business Meetings opposing the changes are available on the Worldcon history videos and past minutes (all of which are public), my feelings are pretty clear and outspoken.

    I haven’t seen David’s presentations about the Exclusion Act of 1939, but, at least from this summary, it seems as if it might well have been a bit more simplistic than the actual events. I don’t know if, for example, he went into how Wollheim was the original chair of the committee appointed to put together the World’s Fair-associated convention (the first Worldcon), who later had the chairmanship taken away at a later convention by the New Fandom faction headed by Moskowitz (as Moskowitz acknowledged on pg 84-85 of his history of the period, The Immortal Storm.

    And the disagreements between the Wollheim viewpoint and the Moskowitz viewpoint extended for many decades.

    But the biggest difference between 1939 and 2015, at least from my viewpoint, was that, for all of the strength of disagreement, everybody involved agreed that their opponents were fans just like them, and that the overall health of fandom, and the fandom vs the outside world conflict was more important than the intra-fandom disagreements, no matter how bitter and persistent they were. So nobody would even think of bringing in non-fannish allies — whereas Sasquan’s situation was written up in lots of non-fannish publications, and many of the people involved viewed their opponents as Others, instead of, as in 1937-9, misguided family members.

    Don and Sam may have played hard against each other — but, for both of them, fandom was the most important thing, and they were trying to bring fandom around to their point of view without doing anything to harm it, because the good of fandom was the most important goal, and, while they worked hard to win, they respected the other side. I don’t believe that to have been the same in 2015 (or the earlier years of the Sad Puppies, before things blew up around Sasquan).

    And, for me, personally, I very much wish the current situation were otherwise. Because, knowing some of both communities in person, and more of you online, I truly believe that there really is a larger fannish community that includes all of the people who care about the issue, and I care about the health of that wider community, and I try to do what I can to try to assist in that health.

    1. @Ben Yallow
      I think the biggest difference between then and now is the Internet. Back then, you couldn’t easily reach thousands of people anonymously. That made it harder to demonize the people you disagreed with.

      When I’ve been able to chat in person with fans I’ve “met” online, the result has always been pleasant and polite. That’s true whether they were from here, from File 770, or even the crew who threw me under the bus. One really big difference is that, in person, people are willing to bend. For example, one guy I chatted with at Libertycon conceded that the 2015 short-story picks were pretty disappointing and gave the whole project a bad name. I conceded that in 2016 it’s clear that lots of the Hugo voters didn’t bother to read the packet and simply voted any slated candidate under no award–regardless of quality.

      But it’s almost impossible to reach that sort of agreement in an online discussion. As soon as it looks like you’re ready to give an inch, your own side turns on you.

      I’m not sure what the solution to this is–it’s a problem much bigger than fandom. The best I can say is that I’m sure we really are better people than we appear to be online. There’s got to be the basis of a solution in that, somehow.

      1. The solution is to realise that it doesn’t matter whether some rando on the internet disagrees with you or not.

  8. Here’s the thing. Vox was never in this for the award. Oh sure, had that stupidity about space rapter butt sex gotten the win he’d have been pleased as punch, but that wasn’t the goal. What he wanted was exactly what he got, an over reaction that demonstrated just how insular organized fandom is. He wanted them to burn down the village to save it, because he saw the Hugo’s as unsalvagable. He was right.

    1. It’s sad that the arson was so effective.
      It’s also sad that I no longer give a rat’s nether region about the Hugos or WorldCon.

      1. You have to admire the arsonist’s ability to get the home “owner” to burn down his/her’s own home. That took a combination of his cunning and their stupidity.

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