Yesterday, a message appeared on the Tor website, distancing the sci-fi/fantasy publisher and its founder, Tom Doherty, from criticisms that one employee had leveled against the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies voting blocs. The Puppies, you may remember, made news a few months ago by crashing the Hugo Awards and stuffing the nominations with candidates from a slate upon which they had agreed in advance.
As Mr. Doherty notes, some of the authors on that slate were published by Tor, so it’s understandable that he’d hesitate to take sides. After all, criticism of the slate’s success might suggest that the publisher doesn’t believe some of their own authors to be worthy of nomination. There is, however, a point in need of clarification, and it goes a long way toward explaining popular disappointment with Tor’s statement.
“Media coverage of the two groups initially suggested that they were organized simply to promote white men,” Doherty wrote, “which was not correct. Each Puppies’ slate of authors and editors included some women and writers of color…” That’s technically true, but misses the deeper point. The Puppies’ aim was not to promote white male authors to the exclusion of others. Rather, the goal was to crowd out science fiction and fantasy that addressed social issues from a progressive perspective, including stories in the long and heralded tradition of using genre to criticize gender, race and sexual inequalities. To that end—as well as to head off the obvious criticisms—the slate the Puppies chose highlighted women and writers of color whose work was deemed socially neutral or merely escapist.
A statement of neutrality in defense of Tor’s own authors was, perhaps, to be expected, but it seems to me that Mr. Doherty has overstepped by offering that weak tea explanation excusing the Puppies’ slate. If, as the message concludes, Tor is dedicated to publishing “on a broad range of topics, from a broad range of authors,” then it would do well to acknowledge that the Puppies are vocally in favor of overshadowing all but a narrow range of topics and promoting only the range of authors that play it safe.