You might have noticed the launch of the strange and beautiful website TheRabidPuppies.com this week — a loud announcement, accompanied by a photo of shirtless Channing Tatum, that one Chuck Tingle (the self-proclaimed "worlds [sic] greatest author") had arrived with the intent to "take DARK MAGIC and replace with REAL LOVE for all who kiss the sky."
As incoherent as this oddly worded crowing might seem to the average reader, it's a clear mic drop in the world of sci-fi and fantasy. That's because the website is part of an ongoing culture war between politicized factions of well-known sci-fi and fantasy authors and their fans, by someone whose claim to fame is writing viral supernatural-tinged erotica.
Its proprietor, the aforementioned Chuck Tingle, is the author of such storied works as Pounded in the Butt by My Own Butt and My Ass Is Haunted by the Gay Unicorn Colonel. And the battle he's just marched into is a fight by a conservative collective known as "the Puppies" to preserve the honor of the Hugo Awards — the annual populist speculative fiction awards chosen by members of the science fiction and fantasy community — against an onslaught of inclusiveness and diversity that has invaded sci-fi/fantasy writing.
Why would anyone, let alone an erotica author who's not connected to the sci-fi/fantasy community, willingly join such a fray? In Tingle's case, he didn't volunteer for the job; he was drafted into the war by the "Rabid Puppies," an extremist subgroup of Puppies who attempted to nominate his writing for a Hugo as a way to mock the entire awards process.
This drama has gradually unfolded within the sci-fi/fantasy community over the past few years, during which arguments for and against "diversity" have grown more and more politicized. But when Tingle found himself involved, he didn't just sit quietly by. Instead, he chose the side of progressive politics, then lobbed a grenade into the enemy camp.
So please, sit back and enjoy the thrilling story I like to call, Reactionary Sci-Fi Writers Pounded in the Butt by Their Own Attempt to Give Chuck Tingle a Hugo Award.
Who is Chuck Tingle?
Chuck Tingle is an internet anomaly. Online, he's best known as that viral author you've heard about, the one who writes erotic short stories with ludicrous titles and sells them on Amazon for a couple of bucks each.
Under this famous pen name, the unknown author (who claims to have a doctorate in "holistic massage" from DeVry University) has become a major, even beloved, viral sensation and perennial Amazon best-seller, spawning a following of fans he dubs "Buckaroos."
After achieving fame early in his career for his many books on Bigfoot erotica, Tingle enjoyed major viral success with Pounded in the Butt by My Own Butt and its follow-up, Pounded in the Butt by My Book "Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt," not to be confused with its follow-up, Pounded in the Butt by My Book "Pounded in the Butt by My Book 'Pounded in the Butt by My Own Butt.'"
Since then, he's churned out a steady stream of hilarious erotic titles on every subject conceivable, ranging from gay unicorn cop patrols to living chocolate chip cookies to dinosaurs to existential dread and the concept of linear time.
Tingle's short erotic fantasies have a dual purpose — and one of them is political
Tingle's short erotica may at first seem like straightforwardly bad writing. At second glance, however, one realizes that Tingle's books are serving as tongue-in-cheek satires of real kink-driven fiction on Amazon, a crowded category brimming with unironic stories about erotic fetishes of every kind. His books also skewer the open culture of self-publishing, where everything and anything goes.
But that's not all Tingle is doing. His works, which he dubs "tinglers" and which are all 100 percent gay, are a deliberate absurdist response to homophobia. In the few interviews he's done about his work (which are generally delightful), he's continually parodied homophobic "slippery slope" arguments and general conservative moral panic.
"I just like to think about how love is real for all who kiss and sometimes that leads to other things like pounding inside a butt," he noted in one. "It’s not gay if it’s a man and a dinosaur with abs or maybe a jet plane and that’s okay too, everyone kisses sometimes."
In another, more recent interview, Tingle was even more deliberate in stating that combating homophobia is the main reason he does what he does:
MORE IMPORTANT reason to write tinglers is to prove that love is real for all who kiss. saw a man on TV talking about buds kissing buds and he said "oh whats gonna happen if we let buds kiss buds whats next are they gonna kiss PLANES TOO?" so i thought "YES ALL LOVE IS REAL WE SHOULD KISS PLANES because they are HANDSOME."
Tingle's work often serves as blatant pop culture satire — often with a pointedly political bent:
You might not think churning out satirical pop culture porn would prime Tingle to become a leading, outspoken opponent of an insular culture war among science fiction and fantasy writers and readers.
But that's exactly what's happened.
Pounded in the butt by a sci-fi/fantasy culture war involving the Hugos
For many years, the science fiction and fantasy community — universally shortened as SFF — has been dealing with growing tension between progressive writers who advocate for a broader range of representative experiences and a more conservative crowd who opposes them. In 2009, many SFF writers, observers, and fans had an industry-wide, year-long series of conversations about the importance of identity and representation in SFF culture; those conversations, which were kicked off by a single controversial essay by a white author on writing "the Other," eventually became known as RaceFail.
In the wake of RaceFail, awareness of the importance of both writing inclusively and supporting the work of women and writers of color has spread throughout a community that has traditionally, for all its futuristic ideas, been dominated by older white men.
RaceFail was SFF's first brush with the larger culture war playing out across all geek communities, in which belief in the need for representation in fiction and among creators has become essentially a polarizing political stance.
Advocates point out that everyone deserves to see characters onscreen and in media who look like them, instead of having to live with a universal "white as default" fictional version of the universe. Meanwhile, opponents typically present a familiar cadre of objections. They feel threatened and newly underrepresented by the sudden emphasis on being more inclusive; long used to the status quo where heroes are white and male, they don't see the need for universal representation now, and the sudden recent emphasis feels superimposed and tokenized. Generally, they worry that writers and other creators are essentially giving themselves brownie points for inclusion at the expense of good writing.
In the SFF community, this political opposition is especially visible during the prestigious Hugo Awards, which are essentially crowdsourced and voted on by die-hard SFF fans and writers. In 2014, the Hugo Award for Best Novel went to Ann Leckie's popular sci-fi novel Ancillary Justice, a work that was widely praised for its innovative, ambiguous approach to gender identity. Although the book is a traditional space opera, a hallmark of "classic" sci-fi in many respects, it was a flashpoint for conservative SFF community members who felt it was an attempt to shoehorn identity politics into the genre.
Following Ancillary Justice's win, conservative writers Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen formed a voting bloc for the 2015 Hugos known as the "Sad Puppies" — a name chosen because they were saddened by the state of contemporary sci-fi.
Enter the Puppies
The Sad Puppies claimed the Hugo awards had become too politicized, too focused on promulgating diversity and wide representation in fiction at the expense of quality storytelling. Shortly after the Sad Puppies formed, they found an ally in a second, even more aggressively right-wing bloc known as the Rabid Puppies — the angry side note to their sadder brethren.
The Rabid Puppies were led by a noted extremist named Theodore Beale, who goes by the pen name Vox Day; Day was booted out of the professional organization Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America in 2014 after making racist public comments against Hugo Award–winning author N.K. Jemisin.
In essence, the Puppies are to the science fiction and fantasy communities what Gamergate is to the gaming industry. But instead of using social media harassment to counteract what they see as the pernicious influence of "social justice" in SFF, the Puppies have chosen to use the Hugos as their platform.
Through a "slate" voting system, the two "Puppies" groups create lists of recommended writers and works. It functions like a list of candidates presented by a political party. The writers nominated on the Puppies slates are generally chosen because the Puppies feel they represent either a strain of conservative thought or the principles of storytelling the Puppies advocate for.
Only a few thousand people participate in the annual Hugo nominations process, which has traditionally happened via a free-for-all write-in where anyone could nominate anyone and anything. As a result, the nominees are often scattered and spread over a wide sea of potential candidates. Thus, without a competing anti-Puppies/pro-inclusivity "slate" of candidates from what would essentially have stood as an opposing political party, the Puppies managed to game the entire nominations system.
This year, the Rabid Puppies did especially well, garnering several categories all to themselves in part because they legitimized their choices by including mainstream popular authors like Stephen King, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Neil Gaiman on their slate.
But the Rabid Puppies may also have made a crucial error. In addition to those more "legitimate" nominees, the group's 2016 slate once again included the likes of Vox Day, several nominees who quickly withdrew their names from voter consideration because they didn't want anything to do with the Puppies' tactics, and one very unlikely author: Tingle, for his short story, "Space Raptor Butt Invasion."
Rabid Puppies leader Day made it clear that Tingle's nomination was a joke intended to delegitimize the Hugos as a measure of value in the SFF community. Many writers, including Jemisin, felt that Tingle's inclusion was taking the joke too far:
In which @nkjemisin talks some smart stuff about Chuck Tingle and the Hugos —— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) April 28, 2016
(go follow her, willya) pic.twitter.com/q1HmhoZOxM
It's true that Tingle could have withdrawn his name so that other SFF writers could have their shot; however, several of his fellow nominees, including popular author John Scalzi and Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, have urged all nominated writers to remain on the ballot.
"The only real victory for [Vox Day] would be having any of these fine writers pull out," Martin wrote on his LiveJournal in reaction to the nominees list. "Let's not play his game."
So. What to do if you're a notably left-leaning absurdist satirical comedian who's been drafted into a culture war because of your humorist online erotica? What to do if it's possible that your presence could be upstaging more deserving writers, even though you've been encouraged not to back out of the race?
You don't get mad; you get funny.
Tingle has been using his Hugo nomination to repudiate the people who nominated him — and it's been brilliant
The first sally Tingle took in his counterattack against the Rabid Puppies was to, naturally, write a new story about it, called Slammed in the Butt by My Hugo Award Nomination. First up, Tingle delivered the porn:
"Wait," I tell the prestigious nomination. "Let me be the one who takes care of you tonight. I want to show my thanks for this incredible, handsome award."
I look up at him and suddenly find myself overwhelmed by love and attraction to this awesome nomination.
Sure, he's penetrating deep within my throat, but he's also penetrating my heart.
But he also included a diatribe against the Puppies' philosophy of literature:
"There's lots of bucks out there who think the soul of books is just inside books. Don't know that real love comes from proving book are real for all who kiss, that's inside and outside of books, goofball."
To translate: Tingle is saying that the sci-fi/fantasy writers who feel that representation impedes good storytelling are ignoring the fact that books do matter in the real world, especially to people like Tingle's band of gay male followers — who deserve to see themselves inside books as much as they deserve to be treated equally outside them.
Once Slammed in the Butt by My Hugo Award Nomination was published, Tingle set about trolling the Rabid Puppies — by turning to one of their most hated enemies, noted feminist game developer Zoë Quinn.
Tingle announced that if he won his category, Quinn would accept the award on his author persona's behalf. This was undoubtedly anathema to many members of the SFF community who overlap with Gamergate; Quinn is essentially Gamergate enemy number one, and one of the women who has experienced the most harassment at the hands of angry men on the internet.
And now TheRabidPuppies.com is the latest volley in Tingle's game. Realizing the domain was up for grabs, Tingle snapped it right up.
sometimes devils are so busy with scoundrel attacks they forget to REGISTER important website names. PLEASE ENJOY https://t.co/CTLiWFUDnm— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) May 23, 2016
Tingle didn't just seize the opportunity and the sudden spike in attention to taunt the Puppies, though; he's using the new website to drive traffic to three of the Puppies' most reviled enemies and their projects:
- Quinn's support network for online harassment victims, Crash Override
- Jemisin's acclaimed novel The Fifth Season, which is currently nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel
- Fantasy writer Rachel Swirsky's crowdfunding campaign to raise money for LGBTQ health resources
(Tingle, who claims to reside in Billings, Montana, also linked to the donations page for the Billings Public Library.)
Tingle's inclusion of Swirsky is significant. Her short story, "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," is a surreal, jarring allegory for dealing with identity-motivated hate crime and violence. Its inclusion as a 2014 Hugo nominee was widely touted by the Sad/Rabid Puppies as being the ultimate example of how "SJWs" — the shorthand for "social justice warriors," a derogatory term many in the "alt-right" use to refer to progressives and intersectional feminists — had invaded SFF culture.
In essence, Tingle is playing the Puppies' game better than they are, using his nomination to draw attention and send support to the very people the Puppies put him on the ballot to overshadow.
Though Tingle's public persona isn't known (or if it is, no one's talking), it's clear that whoever the real author is, he or she is incredibly savvy, both about the political dynamics they're playing with and the SFF culture they've been roped into.
Could it be possible that the greatest joke of all is on the Rabid Puppies? Did their anonymous "joke" candidate turn out to be more at home on the Hugos list than anyone realized?
It would certainly make a brilliant plot twist — which is why the only natural conclusion here might turn out to involve Tingle's juicy sequel, Slammed in the Butt by My Own Dark Horse Hugo Award Win.