Dinosaur erotica raises many questions — “this exists?” and “what?” and “why?” being the foremost— but it probably doesn’t make you ponder the implications on culture at large. But the 2016 Hugo Award Finalists have brought it roaring into the spotlight. If you missed the Chuck Tingle interview, here’s a brief overview: The Hugos are among the most prominent sci-fi and fantasy awards. This year’s finalists include writers like N.K. Jemisin, Stephen King, Naomi Novik, Jim Butcher, Pierce Brown…and a self-published dinosaur erotica writer who goes by Chuck Tingle. Tingle got a nod in the Short Story category for his work Space Raptor Butt Invasion.
How did this happen? Well, the Hugo Awards aren’t like the Academy Awards, where the nominees are chosen by a committee of industry insiders. As John Scalzi explained in the LA Times, so long as you purchase a ticket to World Science Fiction Convention, you, too can submit nominations. In previous years, a group calling themselves the Sad Puppies has used this to try and change what they deem as the Leftist direction the sci-fi community has taken. This takes the form of nominating essay entries like this year’s SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police (with SJW’s standing for “Social Justice Warriors”) or nominating works like Chuck Tingle’s. Authors like George R.R. Martin have spoken out about it, drawing the national spotlight.
Author, screenwriter, and comic book writer Chuck Wendig explained to Inverse that the controversy is “part of a larger problem inside geek and pop culture, and arguably in the larger culture. Trump and bathroom legislation and harassment inside pop culture industries. I like to believe that these are the fear-bleats of a species who has seen that it is going extinct. Like yellow-jackets sensing the end of summer, they’re more vicious knowing soon they’ll be frozen out by the first frost of a changing season.”
John Scalzi, who has previously earned multiple Hugo nods and won in 2013 for his novel Redshirts, told Inverse, “A major Puppy strategy this year (as last) is to annoy people , either by dragooning uninvolved (and unwilling) people onto their slate, or by putting work on the slate designed to make who they imagine as the Hugo voters irritated about its presence. In the case of Tingle, I suspect it’s meant to be both. But people don’t seem especially upset by Tingle’s presence on the ballot so far, in part because Tingle is responding in a mostly positive, inclusive way, and because everyone’s acknowledging the absurdity of it. It doesn’t mean this can’t change, and it doesn’t change the underlying fact of jerks trying to sabotage the awards. But his presence is already something different than expected.”
Wendig later told Inverse, “I dont actually think its him, but RJB’s tweets are very much of the alt-comedy, absurdist anti-joke style. Similar to someone like the comic Rob Delaney.”
N.K. Jemisin, who earned a Best Novel nod for The Fifth Season this year, told Inverse that Chuck Tingle would do well to use his fifteen minutes of fame in a positive way.
“Satire is funniest when it punches up,” Jemisin said. “If [Chuck Tingle] doesn’t like being turned into a tool by a homophobe (and misogynist, and racist, and…), then CT’s got lots of power to fight back right now. CT fighting back and/or refusing to let themselves be used in this manner would be positive because it would remind everyone that the Hugo platform is powerful, and haters abuse it at their peril.”
“Writers who stand against bigotry get a lot of respect in this genre. Chuck Tingle vs. the Rabid Puppies would be a glorious thing to see,” Jemisin says.
Whether Chuck Tingle wants to fight back or live his blissful existence with unicorns and dinosaurs, many still wonder about his identity. He uses a stock photo and never breaks character, whether he’s in interviews or Reddit AMAs. “I don’t think we’ve come far enough in artificial intelligence for Tingle not to be a person,” said Scalzi. “Now, whether Tingle is one person or many is another thing entirely — “He” could be “They” (plural) easily enough. Is Tingle a creation of trolls? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. Tingle was publishing his stuff well before it was roped in to this year’s Hugo contretemps.”
Wendig speculated that Tingle is a self-aware comedian and his books are jokes. “They’re satire,” he said. “They read a little like LiarTown USA. I don’t see much indication that he’s connected to the community at large, but he’s a total cipher, so who knows. He could be in science fiction, or he could be connected more to the self-publishing community or — really, who knows? And maybe it doesn’t matter and maybe like a really weird Santa Claus its a myth we shouldn’t try to bust. “
“It’s emphasizing the fact that [the Sad Puppies] would literally rather see space dinosaur erotica win than worthy works by authors they don’t like,” said Jemisin. “That point was made pretty obviously last year, given the poor quality of some of the works they put on their slates, but this actually makes it even more noticeable that they don’t have anything good to offer. But the silliness of choosing Tingle obscures the actual harm they’re doing, which is taking up slots on the awards ballot that could have — and probably would have — gone to good writers. Many of those writers would’ve been from marginalized groups like women or people of color or non-American writers, because us marginalized-group folks have been kicking literary ass lately, in my opinion.”
I think the Chuck Tingle thing is a welcome bit of comedy, but it’s important not to let that distract from what’s really going on: Jerks and trolls being jerks and trolls.
— John Scalzi
Jerks, trolls, and sexy dinosaurs, of course. While other award ceremonies have their own storm of conflicts, at least nobody can accuse the sci-fi community of being dull.