From 2013 to 2014, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America engaged in a series of very public controversies that dwelt on the issues of sexism, racism and public conduct of its members. Events in 2013 occurred in parallel with each other but really covered two distinct issues, whereas 2014 managed to synthesise new issues as well as the on-going fall out from 2013.
We will get to the events of 2014 in due course. The two controversies of 2013 were:
- Sexism (and other issues) within the SFWA Bulletin — the official magazine of the SFWA
- Calls for the expulsion of Vox Day (Theodore Beale) from the SFWA
The controversies ran through the year and overlapped the end of John Scalzi’s term as president and the presidency of Steven Gould. However, rather than present them intertwined together chronologically, I will look at them separately. There is a basic sense in which these controversies were distinct, it was entirely possible for either of them to have occurred in different years and have different outcomes. However, in another sense they were absolutely part of a single phenomenon, something which would become clearer in 2014.
This chapter will focus on key character in the Debarkle: Vox Day. In the next chapter, we will replay the SFWA’s stormy 2013 but this time follow the events around the SFWA Bulletin.
When we last looked at Vox Day he had more overtly embraced the politics of the so-called ‘Manosphere’ and had started an additional blog dedicated to ‘game’ i.e. pick-up artistry and misogyny. He had also escalated his rivalry with John Scalzi by writing multiple posts on his own blog referring to Scalzi as a rapist. Day, at the start of 2013, had also declared his candidacy for the Presidency of the SFWA.
At the end of 2012, Day had also ended his regular column at World Net Daily. He bowed out with a column claiming that many of his predictions had come true but that now he wanted to concentrate on writing his novels. A different gig had come to an end for Day also. Under the penname of ‘Theo”, Day had been a regular reviewer at the fantasy fanzine Black Gate. However, in his bid to push boundaries, Day found himself in hot water after posting an essay in December 2013 entitled ‘SF/F Corruption Part 1’. Ostensibly this essay was about Amazon banning authors from reviewing their own books. However, he quickly pivoted to a complaint about the SFWA’s Nebula Awards:
“The problem isn’t merely one of authors sockpuppeting and heaping praise upon themselves under false identities. I am a member of the SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and I have had the dubious privilege of sitting upon three of its Nebula Award juries in the past. More importantly, I have had access to the SFWA Forum, and its updated list of Nebula Award nominations, for more than ten years. And one of the things that rapidly became obvious to anyone who attempted to participate honestly in the system between 2000 and 2010 was that the Nebula Award is, first and foremost, a means for various small groups of people to shamelessly and dishonestly promote the works of themselves and their friends.”https://www.blackgate.com/2012/12/27/sff-corruption-part-i/
Complaining about ‘logrolling’ in the Nebula Awards has been so commonplace that this opening salvo was not really controversial in itself. These were more truism that had been often cited but Day rapidly drifted to his older bête noire, former SFWA President Catharine Asaro’s 2002 Nebula winner Quantum Rose. He then was highly critical of Jo Walton’s 2012 Nebula winner Among Others and bemoaned why the likes of “Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross, and China Mieville” hadn’t won. In the comments people noted a certain pattern in Day’s choice of ‘bad’ winners and the authors who Day felt had been overlooked. Day expanded his thesis in the comments and promised to name more names in part ii. He claimed that two forces were corrupting the Nebulas, Tor books and a group of women eventually saying explicitly:
“Correction: have corrupted the Nebula. I’ve got no shortage of rec lists proving it. The same women were always recommending the same authors every chance they got”ibid.
As Jo Walton went on to point out to Day, she wasn’t even a member of the SFWA and hence couldn’t possibly have been promoting her own book on the SFWA forums nor could have it been promoted as a form of quid-pro-quo ‘logrolling’. Day partly backtracked claiming that the reason for his suspicion was because “your book was published by Tor Books is enough to make its Nebula Award suspicious on its face, given that the SFWA President and Vice-President are both closely associated with Tor.” Although Day had claimed a major scandal was brewing which he christened “Nebula Gate”, his evidence appeared to be little more than a negative impression he had of a book he hadn’t read because it was published by one of the biggest publishers of science fiction in the US (and because of the gender of the author). Day also was confused about when Catherine Asaro had won her Nebula Award, incorrectly stating that “She just happened to win while she was President of the organization.”
Day had some general support in the comments at Black Gate. Notably, the editor and founder of Tangent magazine, Dave Truesdale added weight to Day’s concerns:
“Theo is correct when it comes to the inbred logrolling. As SFWA Bulletin editor from 1999-2002, I can attest to this first hand. A small clique and their “in” friends control quite a bit of what goes on in SFWA (at least it did back then and I have no reason to doubt that things have changed).Dave Truesdale, ibid 
This is why the Hugo, to my mind, is the more desired award and better represents the feeling of genre readers. Vote-trading, at least to some small degree, always occurs, but Nebula Award voters have honed this aspect to a fine art.”
With Day’s announcement of a run at the SFWA presidency, his motives behind attempting to gin up a “Nebula Gate” based mainly on discontent from a few years prior and antipathy towards Tor Books, was so that he could cast himself as an anti-corruption candidate. In a blog post announcing the first five posts of his platform, four of the five were about the Nebula Awards and the fourth demanded greater transparency:
“ELIMINATE THE APPEARANCE OF CORRUPTION IN THE AWARD PROCESS: Closing the nomination process to the membership and the public made the appearance of corruption worse, not better. Reducing the number of recommendations to reduce logrolling was a good idea, hiding the results from the membership created more harm than good.”https://web.archive.org/web/20130627145739/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/01/sfwa-platform-first-five-points.html
Overall though, his five points were not overtly ideological or extreme. His third point calling for expansion of SFWA membership to self-published writers based on Amazon sales, was an idea others had proposed and the SFWA would later implement a similar idea.
Meanwhile, Day continued to write a multitude of post targeted at John Scalzi accusing Scalzi of being a rapist and calling the commenters at the Whatever blog ‘rabbits’. Meanwhile, Scalzi had been joining in with a project run by author Jim C Hines where Hines would mock sexist cover art in genre books by posing as close as he was able to the absurd positions women were often shown in. In January 2013, Hines and Scalzi, along with authors Patrick Rothfuss, Charles Stross and Mary Robinette Kowal, recreated the cheesy Baen cover of Poul Anderson’s Young Flandry, inverting the picture of a fully dressed young man surrounded by scantily clad young women, to a besuited Kowal surrounded by scantily clad beardy sci-fi authors. This led to further confusing accusations from Day around Scalzi’s sexuality. However, if Day had been primarily motivated to run for SFWA President as a way to have a direct contest with Scalzi, he was to be disappointed when Scalzi declined to run again.
Day would continue to troll Scalzi through his blog amid other posts on politics, promoting paleo-diet food bars (‘primal cocoanut’), sowing fears about the swine-flu vaccine and saying women shouldn’t be allowed to vote (even Margaret Thatcher). Scalzi responded by using Day’s trolling to raise money for charities dedicated to a range of causes, leading to international media coverage.
The media coverage portrayed Day as troll and his apparently obsessive behaviour and the doubling down on his more reactionary views would appear to be a bad strategy for getting elected President of the SFWA. It is true that Day had long held an animosity to Tor Books and to Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden because of the roasting he received on Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s blog in 2005 but Day had managed to remain relatively amicable towards John Scalzi for nearly seven years. So why was Day acting out now?
The answer is visible in this Salon article from the time:
“Here’s how you beat the trolls: Turn their hatred into cash for charities they despise. That’s what science-fiction writer John Scalzi has done — and in the process, he’s raised more than $50,000 in pledges for Emily’s List and the Human Rights Campaign, specially chosen to earn the ire of a blogger Scalzi calls “my racist sexist homophobic dipshit.””https://www.salon.com/2013/02/06/sci_fi_writer_makes_50000_for_charity_off_of_his_troll/
Actually, it’s not the text of the article that helps explain Day’s behaviour but rather the image at the top of the article. To illustrate the conflict between Day and Scalzi, Salon used images of books by each author. Vox Day’s Throne of Bones published by an obscure Christian press would not have normally got such publicity. Day began his more severe trolling of John Scalzi on 27 October 2012, it was in some ways opportunistic but it was also just 12 days after Day had announced that Throne of Bones would be published in December.
Politics and Day’s animosity to Tor and dislike of John Scalzi were still part of the picture. Day had wanted recognition for his writing, he had put effort into engaging with the Nebula Awards as a jurist and with broader fandom as a reviewer at Black Gate. However, even the relatively mild shifts towards gender equality in the SFWA were going to make it unlikely that Day, whose extreme views on women had been known among many SFWA members since 2005, would ever win a Nebula. What Day could do though was make use of the animosity towards him both to antagonise his detractors and promote his fantasy novel to a right wing audience.
Day was keen for his novel to tap into a Christian market but to make use of the more violent aesthetics of works such as George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones. The darker aesthetics of Day’s fantasy novel even caused some problems for Day’s publisher who was told by one Christian writer’s organisation that it would lead to the published being taken off their list of approved publishers. At the time, Day took this phlegmatically saying that he was used to being ‘blackballed’ by publishers.
In the meantime, John Scalzi endorsed author Steven Gould’s run for the SFWA presidency. Gould was a longstanding member of the SFWA and like Scalzi was also a teacher at the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop.
Beyond the SFWA Officers election, other conflicts were raging within the SFWA and in science fiction, which we will get to in the next chapter. Author Sarah A Hoyt, feeling that the left within SFF had gone too far, declared in April of 2013 that:
“The civil war turning hot just means one side is not being iced out. It’s a sign of freedom, and a sign this field might yet become healthy again.”https://accordingtohoyt.com/2013/04/13/when-the-civil-war-turns-hot/
Naturally Day agreed. By this point, Day had been busy stoking the fires and given his strong views on women, sexuality, race and immigration, he had become an increasingly polarising figure in his election campaign. In response to Hoyt’s civil war theme, Day took an even more apocalyptic tone:
“The gatekeepers are failing, the gates are swinging open, and the right-wing horde is rapidly approaching the citadel. It won’t be long before the sneering writers of SF/F cease their endless snarking and start crying out for mercy.https://web.archive.org/web/20130429135705/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-ideology-war-in-science-fiction.html
At that point, it will fall to us, we established writers of the right who have somehow managed to surmount every obstacle and survive every stone and missile hurled our way throughout what passes for our literary careers, to remind them that it was their decision to declare “no quarter”. We didn’t make the rules, we are merely playing by the ones they established. I won’t take any pleasure in their suffering, but neither will I shed any tears.”
On May 3, the SFWA announced the results:
“SFWA is pleased to announce the results of this year’s Board elections.https://www.sfwa.org/2013/05/03/sfwa-election-results/
• President: Steven Gould
• Vice-President: Rachel Swirsky
If science fiction was in a civil war the first battle had not been a victory for the right. The war was far from over and nor was the impact of Day’s presidential campaign. However, Day’s immediate reaction was phlegmatic. Gould had won 444 votes, nearly ten times Day’s 46 votes but Day had had little expectation of winning.
Meanwhile, in Australia…
N.K.Jemisin was the Guest of Honour at the Continuum convention in Melbourne. Her headline speech dove into the issue of racism. Australia’s history of white supremacy isn’t America’s but it is no less shocking and no less violent. It was not until the 1960’s that the right for Indigenous Australians to vote in Federal and State elections was fully recognised. Jemisin’s speech started with her father’s fears for her safety if she visited Australia:
“This is not a safe country for people of colour. It’s better than it was, certainly, but when the first news story I saw on turning on my first Australian TV channel was about your One Nation party’s Pauline Hanson… well. Still got a ways to go.”https://nkjemisin.com/2013/06/continuum-goh-speech/
Jemisin’s theme was not to castigate Australia but to highlight the long struggle and efforts to improve:
“And Australia may have classified the peoples of the Koorie and other nations as “fauna” until very recently, but Australia has also made tremendous strides lately in rectifying this error. I’ve listened in fascination to the Acknowledgements of Country made at nearly every public event I’ve attended since I’ve been here. I’ve marveled that indigenous languages are offered as courses for study at some local universities. I am awed that you don’t shove all of your indigenous history into a single museum, where it’s easy for people not of that culture to avoid or ignore, because that’s what happens in the US. So as horrified as I am by the nastier details of Australian history… I am also heartened, astonished, inspired, by the Australian present. You’ve still got a long way to go before Reconciliation is complete, but then again, you’ve started down that path. You’re trying.”ibid
And this comparison with the macro scale of a nation coming to terms with its long history of racism served as a segue into talking about the current struggles at a smaller scale of the science fiction community. Jemisin focused in on the struggles consuming 2013. Her main focus was the issue around the SFWA’s magazine but within that issue she looked at Vox Day’s election campaign:
“Now, to put this in context: the membership of SFWA also recently voted in a new president. There were two candidates — one of whom was a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole. In this election he lost by a landslide… but he still earned ten per cent of the vote. SFWA is small; only about 500 people voted in total, so we’re talking less than 50 people. But scale up again. Imagine if ten per cent of this country’s population was busy making active efforts to take away not mere privileges, not even dignity, but your most basic rights. Imagine if ten per cent of the people you interacted with, on a daily basis, did not regard you as human. Just ten per cent. But such a ten per cent.”ibid
Bringing her speech back to the initial theme, Jemisin offered a proposal:
“So I propose a solution — which I would like to appropriate, if you will allow, from Australia’s history and present. It is time for a Reconciliation within SFF.”ibid
Vox Day did not respond well when he learnt of Jemisin’s speech.
In a post entitled A Black Female Fantasist Calls for Reconciliation, Day insulted multiple people including Teresa Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi. He answered Jemisin’s specific point about him by quibbling over her term “self-described”. Now it is true that up to that point, Day had not literally described himself as a misogynist or as racist and hadn’t really described himself as an anti-Semite. He has also never called himself “a few other flavours of asshole”. In Day’s terminology, Jemisin was using ‘rhetoric’. Day’s ideological objection to women was well known and he was quite open about it. Likewise his belief in racial theories and racial separation. Day often cloaked himself in a kind of ‘philo-Semitism’ pro-Israeli position common to American evangelical conservatives but he was also critical of what he regarded as an excessive Jewish influence in American politics. Jemisin’s “self-described” term was disputable but the categories that followed were defensible.
Day took his racial-cultural determinism even further in the post saying:
“Being an educated, but ignorant half-savage, with little more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by “a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys” than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine, Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity within SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance. Nor do the back-patting Samuel Johnsons wiping their eyes and congratulating her for her ever-so-touching speech understand that.https://web.archive.org/web/20130624073226/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-black-female-fantasist.html
There can be no reconciliation between the observant and the delusional.”
This was all bad enough but Day promoted his response via an official SFWA Twitter account designed to allow members to promote matters of interest. He also took to the SFWA boards to argue his point, arguing with author and fan-writer Jason Sanford and demanding an apology from Jemisin.
The SFWA forum moderators took down his posts and locked his account. Meanwhile, having spent the last several months alienating much of the SFWA membership and trolling its President, the backlash to Day calling Jemisin an “ignorant half-savage” was substantial.
Canadian author Amal El-Mohtar called for Vox Day’s expulsion from the SFWA:
“I believe the act of singling out this particular post for dissemination by SFWA Authors to be an act of deliberate, malicious trolling with intent to cause embarrassment to SFWA’s officers and the organization as a whole. I further believe this act should have consequences that SFWA is in a position to deliver.”https://amalelmohtar.com/calling-for-the-expulsion-of-theodore-beale-from-sfwa/
Others agreed. Jim C Hines was more ambivalent and was unsure whether the SFWA even had the power to expel members but after considering the rules thought that it could be done. Author and fan-writer Foz Meadows made a more stark statement of the issues at stake:
“If Theodore Beale isn’t cast out of the SFWA immediately, then that organisation is worth nothing.”https://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/reconciliation-a-response-to-theodore-beale/
By this point, the SFWA presidency had shifted with John Scalzi’s term in office officially coming to an end. The new SFWA President, Steven Gould, now had to consider the expulsion of his electoral opponent Vox Day. The board began appointed an investigator to collect evidence and produce a report. Meanwhile Day was threatening legal action.
The SFWA board forwarded their report to Day as part of the due process of considering his expulsion. Day responded by posting sections of it on his blog and ‘crowd-sourcing’ responses from his followers.
On August 14 Day announced he’d been expelled from the SFWA but this was just one of the conflagrations facing the organisation.
Next Time: Civil War Part 2
-  See chapter 17 https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/03/27/vox-days-gamma-game/
-  https://www.wnd.com/2012/12/11-years-of-failure/
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20130102011454/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2012/12/nebulagate-2012-winner-responds.html
-  Truesdale’s years at the Bulletin can be found here https://www.sfwa.org/about/current-officers/prior-sfwa-board-officers/
-  the use of the term ‘rabbits’ by Day is something I explained back in 2017 here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/weird-internet-ideas-rk-and-the-far-right/
-  https://www.jimchines.com/cover-posing/
-  https://www.jimchines.com/2013/01/group-cover-pose-reveal/
-  https://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/01/14/i-am-not-running-for-sfwa-president-again-again-again/
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20140617173844/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-ripped-life.html
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20140617132231/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/01/vaccine-safety-and-swine-flu-vaccine.html
-  Vox:”I would absolutely deny women such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Margaret Thatcher the vote if the responsibility was given to me.” He also claims to have met both of them https://web.archive.org/web/20170119100652/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/01/i-am-still-not-conservative.html
-  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/feb/05/trolls-prompt-author-charity-donation
-  see chapter 8 https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/02/24/debarkle-chapter-8-electrolite-2005-03-01/
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20140618173900/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2012/10/introducing-arts-of-dark-and-light.html
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20130115194625/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/01/what-is-christian-fiction.html
-  https://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/02/25/my-endorsement-for-sfwa-president-steven-gould/
-  I was going to say “for the Confederacy” but that would require too many layers to unpack.
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20140618203951/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/05/sfwa-opts-for-status-quo.html
-  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-06/indigenous-recognition-timeline-of-australian-history/6586176?nw=0
-  he had once said that a pro-Israel group were using criteria so broad for the term that he would be classified as an anti-Semite
-  I spent some time collecting links from Day’s posts prior to this point in 2013 to see exactly how defensible Jemisin’s classification of Day as a misogynist, racist, anti-Semite was. It’s easier to find links demonstrating this from 2014 onwards but there’s no shortage prior. I’m not posting them all here.
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20130615192846/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/06/sfwa-forum-moderated-posts.html
-  https://www.jimchines.com/2013/06/racist-takes-dump-in-sfwa-twitter-stream-news-at-11/
-  Day’s lengthy response can be read here in PDF form http://milobookclub.com/mart/SFWA_response.pdf It is mainly a list of all the times SFWA members said rude things about him. Day also uploaded the SFWA report in full to his website where it can still be read http://milobookclub.com/mart/SFWA_report.pdf
-  https://locusmag.com/2013/08/beale-expelled-from-sfwa/