For those of you who have been without internet for the last week or so, there’s been a witch hunt going on. Now, I can hear some of you already muttering that I need to step back, take a deep breath and find my coffee. Well, that’s true, but it has nothing to do with what has me wound up this morning. No, that started several days ago when I began seeing posts by authors and others in the publishing field condemning Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg for what they had written in several editions of the SFWA bulletin. I have a lot of issues with how this “problem” has been dealt with and wonder if, in fact, it is actually a problem. However, I have no doubt that this conflagration is something that is doing no good to SFWA or to any author — but not for the reasons SFWA and those taking part in the witch hunt think.
Before we get into that, let’s review what SFWA is, or is supposed to be. According to SFWA’s homepage, it is “a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres.” Still quoting from the homepage, SFWA is “open to authors, artists and other industry professionals, including graphic novelists.” That all sounds great, doesn’t it? Of course, being a home page blurb, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter, that there is more to membership than just being an author or artist, etc. You have to meet their definition of what a professional is.
To be considered a pro (or an “active” member), you have to prove you have sold three short stories (or similar) to a “qualifying” market at a rate of at least $0.05/word with a minimum payment of $50. If you can’t do that, then you have to prove that you’ve sold one novel to a qualifying market and received an advance of at least $2,000, or you’ve had one professionally produced “full length dramatic script” that the committee finds meets the requirements.
That all sounds reasonable, right? Wrong. Where is the provision for publication through small presses that don’t pay advances but give the author a higher royalty rate than legacy publishers? What about authors like Rik Locke (Rik, we miss you) and others who make more on their self-published works than a lot of legacy published authors ever will make through their traditional contracts? I don’t qualify for SFWA membership despite the fact I made more than $2,000 on a single title through Amazon alone last month. There is nothing in the membership requirements that address the fact that there are a number of titles that come out in digital format only, hence no print version and no advance even if there is a lot of money made for the author.
Oh, we’ve heard the excuses from SFWA for the last couple of years. They were in the process of reviewing the issue. It would need an amendment to the by-laws, etc. etc., etc. Problem is, RWA reacted quickly to the issue. Its solution isn’t perfect, but at least it acknowledges the fact that the e-book revolution is here and has won its place in the publishing world. But, as far as SFWA is concerned, e-books, small presses and indie authors are nothing but embarrassments to be hidden from the rest of the world.
To become an associate member, you have to prove up one qualifying sale where you were paid at least $0.05/word with a minimum payment of $50. Of course, there’s no definition on the membership page that I saw that defines what the difference in membership levels is, other than qualification requirements. But even the associate membership requirements ignore digital publishing and indie publishing.
So, right off the bat, SFWA is losing its argument that it is still relevant and important to authors.
Then came this latest kerfluffle, a literary version of a witch hunt. The first time I became aware of it was when some of the folks on my Facebook “friends” list started condemning Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg for what they’d written in two specific columns in the SFWA Bulletin. Words like sexism, misogynistic and — I kid you not — evil were used. Some of these same people started threatening to leave SFWA, or to never join it, if action wasn’t taken against Resnick and Malzberg. That action was, without a doubt, that they no longer be allowed to write for the bulletin and, if some of these folks had their way, never be allowed to write another word, anywhere, ever.
So, being curious because, while I don’t know either Resnick or Malsberg, I know people who do and who have had nothing but nice things to say about them, I went looking to see what was so bad about what they’d said. Color me not surprised to find out that the SFWA Bulletin is for members only. So the general public being hit by these accusations of misogyny, and worse, couldn’t read the columns and judge for themselves.
Then I started looking closer at the search results and realized that Twitter had been alive with the condemnations and calls for SFWA to take action. It turns out, this had apparently been going on in the members only discussion forums and had finally bubbled over to the public section of the internet. But no, this wasn’t an attempt to censor Resnick or Malsberg. This was merely an attempt to keep SFWA relevant and the forward thinking organization it is.
Oh, and of course, these two men could ruin the organization with their backward-thinking.
Then the blog posts started. Few quoted from the columns and only one that I can find actually uploaded scans of ONE of the two columns in question. I haven’t taken time to compare the scans to make sure they are full scans or not. Frankly, my blood pressure was high enough by then that I knew if I discovered they weren’t full scans, I’d have thrown my laptop against the wall and I really, really like this laptop.
So, knowing I wanted to address the issue, I put out a call asking for copies of the issues in question. I wanted to see for myself if there was anything in the articles that might be even close to as bad as what these folks with their figurative torches were saying. There’s not, at least not in my opinion. But that’s not to say I agree with everything Resnick or Malsberg had to say. Of course, I also don’t agree with the way one author and, iirc, former SFWA officer condemned the editor of the Bulletin at the time the issues in question were published for not only letting the columns appear but for, gasp, putting a woman in chain mail on the cover of yet another issue.
Give me a break. Sure, a woman in chain mail is not only historically inaccurate but could be called sexist. But have we lost all sense of humor? Have we forgotten that this sort of cover illustration harkens back to the Golden Age of science fiction? Oh, wait, I forget that we live in an age of such political correctness where a boy can get in trouble because the sign for his name looks too much like a gun or another kid can be expelled for chewing his pop-tart into the shape of a pistol — without meaning to. And let’s not forget school districts requiring Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, as well as other books, to be re-edited to take out words now considered offensive. It doesn’t matter that these words were used accurately AT THE TIME THE BOOKS WERE WRITTEN. What’s next, we start re-editing Heinlein and the other Grand Masters because the science in their books has been outpaced by today’s efforts or because women have different roles in today’s world than they did almost a century ago?
But back to the SFWA issue. What did Resnick and Malzberg do that was so bad, you ask? Well, at the beginning of the column in issue 200, he admits to have written — gasp — porn. And he sold it to a “lady” editor. He identifies female authors and editors as “lady” writer and “lady” editor. Oh, and he’s pissed — not that I necessarily blame him. He and Malzberg had been attacked in the SFWA forums for stating their opinions in what is basically an op-ed column (gee, I thought that’s what op-eds were for). People were demanding that SFWA censor them by not letting them write the column any longer and, gasp, he called them out on it.
Could he have been more circumspect? Probably. Are some of his ideas old-fashioned? Of course. But that isn’t, in my opinion, the real crime with what’s been going on. The crime is how the detractors behaved. They took their issues with Resnick and Malzberg public without giving the public the opportunity to read the columns in question and make up their own mind. They attacked two men who have more experience in the field and, in the vast majority of cases, more sales than these attackers will ever hope to have. Instead of simply asking to post a counter piece to what Resnick and Malzberg said, they went on the attack, with all the name calling and vitriol they accused the two gentlemen — gasp, have I just committed the crime of sexism by calling them gentlemen? — of being sexist and misogynistic.
In other words, this very vocal but apparently small group resorted to bullying and threats to leave or never join SFWA in order to impose their own views on SFWA. Pardon me for not jumping on their bandwagon but I don’t support bullies and you can sure as hell bet that if the tables were turned on them, they’d be whining about how we just don’t understand and we aren’t enlightened or whatever the latest bullshit politically correct term happens to be.
This is an issue, if you want to give it that much credence, that should have been handled in-house. But no, these bullies took their complaint public but didn’t want to give the public the whole story. After all, if they did, the public might just see through all their catch phrases and righteous indignation. They demanded SFWA act so this atrocity never be allowed to occur again.
And SFWA caved and did so publicly and in a way that adds to the condemnation that has been heaped on Resnick and Malzberg, as well as the editor of the Bulletin. It did so without making the columns public. It did so and once more proved that, even if I did meet their requirements for active membership (I do qualify for associate membership), I wouldn’t join.
First, SFWA announced the formation of a “SFWA Bulletin Task Force” and specifically notes in the PUBLIC announcement, “The board is aware of a number of complaints by members regarding Bulletin issue #202, specifically the article by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. . . In response to this and previous feedback from members about recent issues of the Bulletin, I have authorized the formation of a task force to look at the Bulletin and to determine how the publication needs to proceed from this point in order to be a valuable and useful part of the SFWA member experience.”
So, from the outset, it is clear that this new “task force” is in response to the attacks on Resnick and Malzberg. Oh, wait, if you keep reading there has been feedback about other issues of the Bulletin. But we aren’t given any specifics about that. All we know for sure is that the two gentlemen have violated someone’s sense of what is right or wrong. Way to go, SFWA. You’ve just added to the pile-on, whether you meant to or not.
Oh, and while this announcement was made public — again reinforcing the condemnation of the two — you still haven’t made the issues in question public so the readers and other authors can judge for themselves what was so bad.
Then came John Scalzi’s public letter, made in his role as president of SFWA, about the controversy. While I give him credit for taking responsibility — which he should as president — I have to wonder at this: “I went into SFWA’s private forums and onto the Internet to look at comments and commentary, to better acquaint myself with the scope of the issue, so that I could as comprehensively as possible, within a reasonable scope of time, get up to speed with the concerns of members and of others.”
Does he say he read the articles in question? No. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but not sure I should. Neither does he say he spoke with Resnick or Malzberg. No, he went to the forums and the internet to look at what was being said there. I guess he believes, like the girl in the commercial, that if it’s on the internet, it has to be true.
Scalzi goes on to write: “When they [issues] blow up, I believe that we need to respond in two ways. First: Own up to and take responsibility for the event. I have done so here. Two, put into motion steps that show immediately and concretely that the organization is committed to not making the same mistakes again.”
The problem with this is that it assumes that, just because a group of members has been vocal about their dislike of something, there was a mistake made. Again, the assumption that what Resnick and Malzberg did was wrong. Again, doing so without letting the public reading this letter actually read and decide for themselves if there was a problem in the first place. No, this is SFWA reacting instead of SFWA analyzing and deciding the best course of action — assuming one is needed.
And herein lies the real conflict for SFWA:
SFWA is an organization comprised of all its members; it must be seen to work for all its members. When we are both, we are a stronger and better organization.
To all our members, I say: You are welcome, you are valued, you are needed. We need you, and your voice and your willingness to make yourself heard when you feel that we are not the organization we can be. Be part of us, and help us be the organization you need us to be – that all science fiction and fantasy writers need us to be, and can be proud to be a member of.
In any organization, there will be people who aren’t happy. That’s life. If there’s more than one person present, someone is going to unhappy with decisions or courses of action at some point. You can’t keep everyone happy, nor can you work for what everyone sees as their benefit.
What has become clear is that SFWA, at least under the current philosophy, will stick up for whichever segment of its membership that yells the loudest. Am I saying to ignore problems? Hell, no. But there are much better ways to handle the issue than have been done. If so many members of SFWA were offended by what Resnick and Malzberg had to say, let them write a counterpoint article. Or, better yet, do a dialog between several of them and Resnick and Malzberg. Or is SFWA and those condemning Resnick and Malzberg afraid of engaging in a dialog with them because their own prejudices and hypocrisy might be there for all to see?
Is this all just a tempest in a teapot? It should be. Why? Because the articles were published in a closed bulletin, one not available for public consumption. But those who took the discussion of what was “wrong” with what Resnick and Malzberg said took it public. If SFWA really wants to prove it is standing up for ALL its members, if it wants to prove it has relevance to readership of science fiction and fantasy, instead of caving to the bullying tactics of a few vocal members, it would make the columns public and let us judge for ourselves. It would tell the members who continue to beat this horse in public to shut the hell up and to quit airing the laundry in public. But no, it caves. It puts a muzzle on two gentlemen who, in my opinion and the opinions of others I respect, did nothing really bad other than show their age and then get mad when folks started attacking them.
SFWA, here’s my challenge to you: show a spine and publish a dialog between Resnick, Malzberg and two of the most vocal of their critics. Make that dialog, as well as the articles in issues 200 and 202 public and then see what the response is.
Oh, and while you’re at it, bring your membership requirements up to date. Isn’t it past time to realize there is more than one track to publication? (And, btw, I have no problem with having members prove on an annual or bi-annual basis that they still qualify.)
No, I’m not going to post the copies of the articles I received here. For one thing, they are copyrighted and I don’t have permission to post them — nor do I think I’d get permission to if I asked. The last time I posted anything even remotely critical of SFWA, I had one of the officers come here and try to show me the error of my ways. When I brought out the facts to back my position, that officer never returned. So, in order not to get my fellow MGC’ers in trouble as well as the friend who sent me copies of the articles, I’ll not post them.
Nor will I post links to the blogs condemning Resnick and Malzberg. All you have to do is search for “SFWA Bulletin 202” and you’ll come up with pages of results.
What I will do is say I’m tired of a vocal group of bullies telling us how we should believe and what we should write. If you don’t like chicks in chainmail on book covers, then don’t put them on yours. I have no objection to being called a “lady” or “female”. My son has no objection to being called “gentleman” or “male”. It’s time for us to quit taking ourselves so seriously and to get past this political correctness BS we’ve been mired in. It doesn’t fix the underlying problems. All it does in cement them more firmly into place.
As for Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, I don’t agree with everything they had to say. But, reading the articles, I found nothing to hint at any malice or intent to put down females in this industry, far from it, in fact. My final question to SFWA and the detractors is this: when did it become a crime to be old-fashioned and a gentleman?