Debarkle Chapter 23: SFWA Civil War Part 2

Previously on Debarkle: the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America became embroiled in a culture war when it had to expel the far right author Vox Day but this was only one front in what some people were calling a Civil War within Science Fiction…

The worlds of science fiction writers and science fiction fans aren’t wholly different. Authors (and editors) can be fans and some fans become authors. For example, SFWA Grand Master, Robert Silverberg was recognised by Hugo Award voters as the best Fan Writer of 1951[1]. Even so it is a measure of the size of ructions in one adjacent world when it impacts another.

In 2013 at the long-running fanzine/website File 770, multi-Hugo Award winning fan writer Mike Glyer was taking notice:

‘“SFWA has a fanzine, too,” I’ve heard pros joke, meaning the SFWA Bulletin. Since I’m not a member I don’t see it, and ordinarily never think about it unless an issue contains something controversial about fandom, for example, Gene Wolfe’s complaint about the financial support he received as GoH of the 1985 Worldcon, or the dialog – by Resnick and Malzberg, come to think of it – saying the Worldcon will keep deteriorating unless it becomes more like Dragon*Con.”

Glyer’s post outlined a series of controversies that had hit the SFWA Bulletin:

“Consecutive issues have been criticized by a number of members who found some contents sexist  – a Resnick/Malzberg dialog about “lady editors” in #199, a babe in a chainmail bikini on the cover of #200, an article suggesting Barbie as a role model for women writers in #201, and most explosive of all, the new Resnick/Malzberg dialog in #202 counterattacking critics of the earlier piece”


Mike Resnick was a multi-award winning writer, editor and fan who had been active in the SFWA, as well as in Worldcon for many years. In the comments to his post, Glyer described Resnick’s long-standing social influence in fandom:

“Resnick has enjoyed a long run of popularity because he has befriended and entertained large numbers of convention-goers as a panellist, toastmaster, and storyteller. He has a big, bold alpha male personality – and, of course, it’s sometimes overwhelming, since he’s used to dominating a room, a stage, an audience. But if you look around our field, a lot of people have achieved popularity without being perfect.”

The sequence of issues of the SFWA’s professional magazine had built up a groundswell of objections from members. The out-going President, John Scalzi responded by commissioning a task-force to look at the Bulletin’s issues and its future. Scalzi had been very apologetic about the furore but as Mike Glyer would later point out, Scalzi had good reason to take some of the blame:

“There are two reasons I wanted to quote from Scalzi’s post. First, it shows he exercised some actual review over the material before publication and reports the casual inspection he made of the Resnick/Malzberg dialogue. He had a more direct role than was generally known. His responsibility wasn’t simply that of a ship’s captain being held accountable for whatever the crew does on his watch. He’s supplied these details to make clear why ‘This is on me.'”

In letting Resnick and Mazberg reply to their many critics via another column in the Bulletin, Scalzi had effectively elevated their response via an official outlet of the SFWA, further embroiling the SFWA with a set of opinions that had they been posted on personal blogs would have received much less attention. In a bid to avoid appearing censorious, the SFWA had tripped up badly.

An SFWA Taskforce to deal with the bulletin issue was announced which included the incoming President Steven Gould and Vice President Rachel Swirsky[2]. Meanwhile, the list of authors and fans talking about the issue had grown substantially. At his blog, Jim C Hines posted an ongoing list of blog posts on the issue[3]. Hines’s initially list had thirty entries but it grew to over sixty within days. Eager to involve himself, Vox Day re-posted Hines’s list saying:

“…I’m not a fan of either Resnick or Malzberg.  I merely support their right to write opinion pieces and freely express their opinions in them, regardless of how offensive these delicate, fainting flowers may find those opinions to be.  Of course, in the present SFWA, such support for free speech renders me a radical extremist,…”

Typically, when Day posted links to blogs he was being critical of, the blog would then receive a surge in visits from pseudonymous trolls adding further fuel to the fire.

With widespread attention focused on the issue of the Bulletin, Day was trying to insert his own issues into the fuss. Indeed, the when N.K.Jemisin had used Day as an example during her Continuum speech (last chapter) it was as a side point on the broader issue of there being an entrenched wing of the SFWA resisting change specifically on issues to do with race, gender and professional conduct.

However, the strongest statement on the entrenched sexism of a section of the SFWA was not Jemisin’s speech but a blog post from former SFWA vice president Mary Robinette Kowal. Entitled “Dear Twelve Rabid Weasels of SFWA, please shut the fuck up”, the strong words took some people by surprise because Kowal was known as person who had positive connections across a broad section of fandom.

“I spent four years in office and the first year I almost quit because I got so tired of getting hate mail. Then I realized that it was coming from the same dozen people, every single time. All the other members were lovely. It was easier to shrug off being called “impertinent,” or “wannabee” (Did I show you the Hugo I won since then), or “Nazi,” when it became clear that the vitriol didn’t represent all of SFWA, just a dozen rabid weasels. However, I am sick to death of putting out the fires that you people start.”

Kowal did not name the twelve people. Some people assumed that one was Vox Day but in fact, he was not[4]. Vox Day, meanwhile, felt he could identify exactly who Kowal was targeting: Jerry Pournelle. Specifically Day claimed that Kowal was misrepresenting Pournelle and that the issue at hand was one of organisational overreach i.e. that the SFWA had been attempting to impose codes of conduct on its members beyond official SFWA events:

“Second, no one is complaining about anyone asking people not to sexually harass anyone. They are objecting, quite reasonably, to the insane idea of setting up SFWA as a sexual harassment police with self-declared jurisdiction over every SF/F convention on the planet. They are objecting to the abuse of the organization by a number of vocal nonentities attempting to use it for their own ideological purposes. If anyone is going to “Shut the Fuck Up”, it should be irresponsible nobodies like the Puppinette who have absolutely nothing of any value to say, either on their blogs or in their books, and who have contributed nothing to the organization except to bring it to the brink of self-implosion.”

Along with the on-going issue of the SFWA Bulletin and the looming expulsion of Vox Day, a discussion had broken out on an SFWA related forum about sexual harassment by an SFWA member. According to Jerry Pournelle’s account:

“Meanwhile, over at the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) members site, there began a complicated conversation about sexual harassment. The discussion was heated but mostly involved hypothetical cases. Then there came a report of an incident involving an editor I once worked with and a female editor I have never met, at a convention party. The offended party posted something on line, and a SFWA official reposted that in the SFWA discussion. Since neither party was a member of SFWA and the event was not an SFWA event, I failed to understand why this was SFWA business; and in what must have been a fit of absence of mind, I said so.”

On the forum, Pournelle had also related an anecdote about a since deceased author’s regular behaviour at conferences:

“After a few drinks, he would roam the convention parties looking for women he did not know, making certain that this was someone of age ( most often late twenties or older ). He would then approach, stand well out of reach without any physical contact, bow, and say “HI. I’m Randall Garrett. Let’s F—.” This happened many times at many conventions between 1970 and about 1980, after which he was disabled until his death in 1987. His habit was known to nearly everyone of importance in the science fiction community. I know of no one who encouraged him, and many told him to stop it, but he persisted, giving the argument that he never made physical contact, he never pursued or persisted unless he was actively encouraged to continue, and he was doing no more than offering casual recreational sex.”


Pournelle stated that he had relayed the anecdote not to condone the behaviour but merely to illustrate an issue. However, Pournelle’s comment, along with private comments by other SFWA members (including Brad R Torgersen) had been screen captured, transcribed and posted on to a Tumbler account[5].

Brad Torgersen was a lot younger than the other ‘old guard’ members perceived as being the ‘other side’ in this ongoing conflict. Torgersen not only deeply admired Mike Resnick but regarded him as a mentor and would routinely refer to him as a father figure. In June of 2013, Torgersen would publish an essay on his blog entitled “Writer Dad: Mike Resnick”

“If the genre tends to be a bit cliquish, I think the circle of Mike Resnick’s Writer Children is just about the best kind of club one could hope to belong to. For the simple fact that being Mike’s Writer Son demands that I keep up my game! Mike’s spent time on me. I want to make sure that Mike never has to regret it. That he never has to look at what I am accomplishing in the field and shake his head, thinking, if only that boy would work harder, make better decisions, maybe take better care of his opportunities

Torgersen had other reasons to dislike the SFWA. In a post critical of Mary Robinette Kowal’s statement, Baen author Michael Z Williamson also posted criticism of the SFWA from other Baen authors including Larry Correia. In addition he included this quote from Torgersen:

“During the three years I’ve been a member of SFWA, I’ve seen the organization erupt in several significant ‘turf war’ conflicts that have each seemed (to my sensibilities) to have everything to do with ideology, and almost nothing to do with helping me as a novelist and a short fiction writer protect or advance my career.  I thought SFWA would be my ‘union’ capable of enhancing or protecting my interests.  It’s not really been so.  At least in my very limited experience.

Especially not when I stumbled across an e-mail exchange between several SFWA members who were essentially discussing ways to turf my chances on the Nebula, Hugo, and Campbell ballots in 2012.

Why should I pay money to remain a member of an organization that seems (too often?) to be infested with personalities who explicitly want to hurt my career?  Or at least want to blunt my opportunities?”

quote from Brad Torgersen–boldly-snatching-obscurity-from-the-jaws-of-relevance [6]

Nor were Torgersen, Williamson, Day and Correia the only younger authors siding with the older “rabid weasels” in the spreading conflict. However, to look at another nexus of opposition, I will need to digress a little…

Next Time: Dramatis Personae…Sarah A Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club
After That: The SFWA Civil War Part 3


71 thoughts on “Debarkle Chapter 23: SFWA Civil War Part 2

  1. Brad Torgersen one of Resnick’s Writer Children — I don’t know who they all are, but I missed that til now.


    1. Resnick posted a list of his Writer Children in The Castle in Cassiopeia:

      Nick DiChario
      Ron Collins
      Alex Shvartsman
      Lou J. Berger
      Larry Hodges
      Martin L. Shoemaker
      Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
      Robert T. Jeschonek
      Ken Liu
      Brennan Harvey
      Brad R. Torgersen
      Tina Gower
      Marina J. Lostetter
      Andrea Stewart
      Kary English
      Sharon Joss
      Lezli Robyn
      Leena Likitalo
      Laurie Tom
      Liz Colter
      Jennifer Campbell-Hicks
      Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I know that Im not conveying vital information or anything but: Who are those people? Torgensen is the only one I can place, some sound vaguely familiar.
        (I know that this is probably on me, Im just expression surprise )


      2. For the story of the Debarkle relevant besides Torgerson is Kary English, who was nominated in 2015.
        Perhaps gets a mention is Ken Liu, who won the same year that the puppies where controlled by Day/Torgerson as Translator for the Three-Body-Problem. (not conected to the puppys) I don’t think the others have any relevance to the puppydebarkle.


      3. Msb: Is there a reason that they appear to be divided by gender?

        That’s the order they were listed in the book’s dedication. I’m not going to presume to say why, given the author is no longer around to confirm or deny.


      4. I’ve heard of 9 out of 22, including two I associate more with their editing and criticism work than their writing, and I consider myself fairly well versed in the current SFF scene.


      5. I’ve read (non-Resnick) stories or novels by 10 of them, and am at least familiar with 6 more names.


      6. Ken Liu was the English translator for The Three-Body Problem, as well as being known for his own writings.


    1. I can’t find what the question relates to, even though “find on this page” says there’s a second occurrence…somewhere!

      However, it is the date Carl Sagan’s 13 part “Cosmos” premiered on PBS…


      1. William Barton turned 30 on that date – and thus “Don’t trust anyone over 30” now applied to him


  2. This claim by Torgersen that some SFWA members attempted derail his Campbell bid does not come up very often. I don’t have details beyond this.

    I was around when he was making this claim. He refused to provide even an anonymized text of the e-mail, much less the name(s) of the actual person(s) who wrote it. That’s because it didn’t actually happen. Based on numerous other incidents of dishonesty by Torgersen I’ve witnessed, I’m convinced that there’s about as much truth to this as there is to Ringo’s claim that the Hugo administrators kept him off the Campbell ballot “because he’d been writing FOREVER” (in other words, none).

    I think what actually happened is that someone said something less-than-complimentary about Torgersen’s writing, someone else repeated that to BT, and he then confabulated that into “there’s a campaign to keep me off the Hugo ballot!”. Because that’s exactly how Torgersen rolls, as he has demonstrated numerous times. (His repeated claims that Juliette Wade wanted off the SP slate because she was “scared of people coming after her” even as she repeatedly said, “no, I do not support what you are doing, you were not honest with me about what you were doing, and I would not agreed to it if you had been honest with me” are just one example of his blatant lying behavior.)

    Liked by 3 people

      1. ISFDB says September 28, 1980 would have been his 30th birthday. So it’s a reference to the counterculture’s axiom “Don’t trust anybody over 30.”

        Liked by 3 people

      2. More importantly, Brad Torgersen was the only individual on the ballot who clearly did not deserve to win as he was, and remains to this very day, a fucking lousy writer. How he got nominated is a mystery indeed. Maybe it involved sacrificing his soul to Cthulhu. If he has one. Which I doubt.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Cat–I suspect Torgerson’s nomination had more to do with various Writers of the Future placements. I remember placing much lower down than him one quarter and seeing the degree to which he was self-promoting after that. I think that placement was when I shrugged and said to myself “nope, I’m not the writer for this market.” That plus a friend who was a former Sc*ent*l*g*st who was very explicit about the degree to which the contest supported the cult had me stop submitting. Granted, the latter was a much bigger factor than the marketing consideration, and for a few years I didn’t include my own Semifinalist and Honorable Mentions because of potential poor reactions.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. “Ray of Light”, the story for which Torgersen was up for the Hugo, the Nebula and the then-Campbell in 2012, was pretty good. Torgersen also did well in the Hugo and Campbell, finishing second after Charlie Jane Anders and E. Lily Yu respectively. Losing to a transwoman and a woman of colour, now that must have stung, knowing Brad.

        When Larry Correia slated two novellas by Torgersen onto the Hugo ballot in 2014 and I tried to read them, I was shocked by how much worse they were than the pretty good story from 2012. He seems to have degraded as a writer.

        “Maybe it involved sacrificing his soul to Cthulhu. If he has one. Which I doubt.”

        I initially thought “If he has one [a soul]” referred to Cthulhu, which led me to some theological musings if Cthulhu does have a soul.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. @Mike: Serious irony there with that “over 30” slogan being one of (basically) hippies. Puppies should believe the other way around, right?

        @Cora: yes, my thought when the Puppy outbreak started was “macho widdle Bwad must have REALLY HATED losing to a transwoman and a non-white woman.” I’m pretty sure Charlie Jane’s taller than Brad too.

        Did I mention he autographed things “Brad T. 😀” Like his whole name was too long and complicated to sign? Having long names doesn’t seem to deter Harry Turtledove or Alan Dean Foster.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I know Juliette Wade very slightly, and I didn’t buy that at all — she doesn’t strike me as the type to scare easy. She DOES strike me as the type to really dislike being lied to about professional stuff.

      “Confabulate” and its derivatives is a word I hope Cam has in his spell-check, because it fits at least 90% of what Puppies do. Remember, kids, even if you believe it, a lie is a lie.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I read the Malzberg/Resnick We Are Being So Persecuted By Thought Police column. There’s a kind of morbid fascination in watching people digging themselves in so much deeper.
    The “Barbie doesn’t accuse Ken of oppressing her” bit was so irrelevant to the point of the column it’s really … interesting … the writer felt the need to include it.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I found a note that stated that the Twelve Rabid Weasels were active at the time of Mary Robinette Kowal were active for at last ten years at the time.
    It has no conection to the Malzberg/Resnick column as far as I know. (Malzberg not beeing a member of the SWFA, and Resnick definitly stated to not be one of them) The pedition is another isue enterly.
    Insiders knew from what I gettered, whom Kowal was talking about.
    A few of those writers would be people I have never heared of, some would perhaps hurt,
    (And one of the links had a statment from someone who wanted to elect Beale because he would be easier to get power from than those lefties. Everyone who is familar about a certain part of history should know, why this is for me an eary statement) And Torgerson was fansizing about the danger that SWFA would exspel Resnick next.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I looked at some old notes of mine, where I tried to pierce together who those twelve rabid weasels might be. I think I compiled 9 or 10 likely possibilities, three of whom are now dead. Three are big names, the rest are lesser known. One is an author who once wrote a book I loved very much. And yes, VD is one of the weasels

      Not listing the names publicly, because seven are still alive and might be innocent of weaselhood.


  5. Mike’s spent time on me. I want to make sure that Mike never has to regret it. That he never has to look at what I am accomplishing in the field and shake his head, thinking, if only that boy would work harder, make better decisions, maybe take better care of his opportunities.

    Once again, Brad tiptoes right up to edge of self-awareness and introspection before rocketing away.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. The Resnick/Malzberg article had a throwaway line that I remember to this day. They’d been talking about an early fan group, listing members and giving brief biographies. Then they came to the group’s only woman (don’t remember who it was, sorry) and wrote of her that she looked good in a bathing suit. And that was it, her entire biography. And of course instead of apologizing, of saying that maybe her contributions to fandom consisted of more than wearing swimming costumes, they doubled down.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Worse than that — I believe the woman was an editor in the biz, and (according to friends of mine who know genre history) an accomplished one. But all they had to say was yes, she looked hot.


      1. Bea Mahaffey, editor of Other Worlds, Science Stories and Universe Science Fiction in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Fritz Leiber credits her and Cele Goldsmith Lalli with rescuing Fafhrd and Gray Mouser from oblivion after Unknown folded.

        But yeah, let’s reduce her to her looks.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Resnick and Malzberg were wrong to do that, however, there was a reason that it made sense to them to do that — they thought they were making a callback to a clever bit of inside fanhistory — related to your link.

        Bea Mahaffey’s good looks were an oft-mentioned reference in fanzines of the early Fifties — and the effect seems to have been intentionally cultivated. I’m about 20% of the way through the newly-published collection of Chuck Harris’ fanwriting and he has already mentioned her dozens of times….

        Although times had changed decades later, Resnick unfortunately felt privileged to say whatever he liked no matter whether some listeners cringed at his ill-considered sexism.


      3. Googling for photos of Bea Mahaffey, I found dozens of photos of male SFF writers and fans posing with her in the 1950s, so she clearly was popular for her looks as well as her editing skills. Chuck Harris is in a few of the photos.

        Nonetheless. Resnick and Malzberg could have gone into Ms. Mahaffey’s professional accomplishments first and then mentioned that she was also a very attractive woman and that half of SFF pros and fans seemed to have a crush on her.

        And after they got backlash, they might have apologised and said something along the lines of “Bea Mahaffey’s good looks were something of a fandom inside joke at the time, but we forgot that not everybody knows that.” Instead, they doubled down and complained about liberal fascists, which eventually lost Resnick and Malzberg their column.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. But isn’t liberal fascism the REAL problem? After all, garble garble garble cancel culture. And what about lobsters hating Jordan Peterson? Why, I remember back in the day when Bea Mahaffey would wrestle lobsters while looking hot in her bathing suit. You don’t see things like that anymore, now that the gamma rabbit feminazis have taken over!

        Liked by 3 people

      5. Thanks to everyone for the woman’s name. I didn’t know the fannish history, but why couldn’t they have mentioned that along with some, you know, actual accomplishments?

        Liked by 2 people

      6. I’d be even more impressed with her if she HAD wrestled giant lobsters* in her bathing suit! Even 50’s bathing suits didn’t cover that much, and lobsters have built-in weapons and other pointy bits!

        *Giant mutant lobsters because it was the 50s and we’ve all seen the movies.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. LT –

        IIRC, some of those 50s bathing suits were kinda ‘pointy’ too. It could have been Battle of the Pointy Bits.


      8. Coming soon to a theatre, fanzine or blog near you: Bea Mahaffey wrestles giant lobster in her bathing suit at the 1953 Worldcon, while the varfious men of science fiction cower in fear.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’d place the comment about Bea Mahaffey in a swimsuit, the references to lady editors, and the chainmail bikini cover in the microaggression category (other people’s opinions might differ) and likely to blow over, even with the coincidence of their occurrence is successive issues of the bulletin; but Resnick and Malzberg’s appeal to Freeze Peach ensured that it blew up.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A question: I made the mistake of going down the rabbit hole of the archived material at note 5, and I noticed the comments from Bill Barton suggesting that Scalzi, Gould, were in danger of bankrupting the SFWA, although it’s unclear whether he thought it would be deliberate or through negligence. First thing, I’ve never heard of Bill Barton or read his work. I’ll acknowledge that my SFF memory isn’t encyclopedia, but I’ve been haunting SFF sections of libraries and bookstores since the 70s, and I’ve got nothing in my brain about him. Wikipedia has him as publishing more than 10 novels, though. Did I just miss him?

    Secondly, why would anyone be worried about the alleged SJWs bankrupting the SFWA? I thought I was paying attention to SFF fandom around then, but I remember nothing about that. Were there allegations floating around that I missed, or was it just “the sky is falling, we’ll have no money” fearmongering? Clueless minds want to know.

    P.S. I guess that’s 2 questions. Sorry.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I read Iris which he wrote with Michael Capobianco. No idea what led him to believe in the danger of a SFWA bankruptcy, and im sure i must have read some of his stories in Asimovs.


    2. Barton published a fair number of stories in Asimov’s in the late 90s and early oughts, and I quite liked the two novels of his I read, also from the late 90s (Acts of Conscience and When We Were Real). Sorry to learn he turned into a crank.


      1. SFWA reincorporated in California in 2013. Did the insinuations have anything to do with that, or with why it was done? (I don’t know one way or the other.)


    3. Wasn’t it something to do with health insurance? I think it was around this time I stumbled across the various kerfuffles and I have some vaguish memory of the reincorporation in California being in order to grant some benefit to members. The right wing objections were because of the usual ‘how dare you spend my money on something that doesn’t directly benefit me’ sort. Or maybe I am confused.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. From here:

        By and large we are committed to concluding these processes as begun by the current administration if necessary, in particular the re-incorporation as a non-profit organization in California, which will allow us to

        Start administering the SFWA legal and medical funds as tax-deductible entities;
        Allow SFWA to apply and then administer federal/state/local grants to the benefit of our members

        Exactly how that works I don’t know. I tend to doze off in the presence of taxation law.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. From here:

        By and large we are committed to concluding these processes as begun by the current administration if necessary, in particular the re-incorporation as a non-profit organization in California, which will allow us to

        Start administering the SFWA legal and medical funds as tax-deductible entities;
        Allow SFWA to apply and then administer federal/state/local grants to the benefit of our members

        Exactly how that works I don’t know. I tend to doze off in the presence of taxation law.


  8. Ya know, I am only now appreciating the term Scalzi coined for Teddy.

    Teddy’s proud of the R,S, and H. but calling him a dipshit is both accurate and hurt his fee-fees.


    1. There is another fascinating bit of interkerfuffle connection buried in there. The editor of the SFWA Bulletin responsible for the Resnick/Malzberg columns, the C.J. Henderson Barbie article and the bad Red Sonja cover was Jean Rabe, a writer mostly known for tie-in and co-authored work.

      Jean Rabe resigned following uproar and wound up co-editing Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge Magazine. I lost track of her after that, but she recently reappeared co-authoring a Conan pastiche called “Black Heart of the Dragon God” with Craig Martelle of 20Bookto50K/LMBPN Publishing.


  9. Reading this emphasizes how Beale was at this point at best a sideshow, and more generally the proverbial goldfish’s poop to an ongoing debate of how the writer/fan culture were going to develop in the 21st century. One can see hints of how he was going to briefly dominate the reactionary camp by being the one willing to stoop the lowest and say openly what others only implied, but it’s still just hints. At this stage of the game, he was largely an unpleasant curiosity.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The Bulletin situation was ridiculous and infuriating because the magazine issues in question were specifically supposed to be celebrating and honoring women authors, editors and reviewers in the SFF field and their contributions. And jammed into that was a column by a guy who few knew that insisted women authors would get ahead in their careers if they stopped with the feminism, smiled more and never criticized the men about discrimination issues, just like Barbie with Ken; a cover of Red Sonja (who was historically influential but not created by a woman author,) in a 1980’s cheesecake art work with the chainmail bikini in the snow; and lastly R&M’s long-running column supposed to be reminiscing about a prominent woman editor they worked with which consisted of them saying that she looked hot in a bikini and their wives got mad because they wanted to screw her.

    It highlighted some of the main problems with the SFWA at the time, reasons authors like Jo Walton didn’t bother to join it — that the organization was out of touch and doing little advocacy on important current issues like e-book business issues, health insurance, including standards for membership for self-publishing authors to join and discrimination issues marginalized authors faced in the field. And so, many authors tried to make it a teachable moment and a call for further reform in the SFWA. Scalzi turned out to have been in charge of reviewing the material in the issues, didn’t really do that and apologized and set up possible reform ideas for the incoming president such as having an editorial board for the Bulletin instead.

    But he also tried to let R&M make peace with their critics, who were well aware that they were more clueless than malicious. Unfortunately, they then decided to be malicious, insisting that other members couldn’t criticize them or could only do so in narrow ways like writing letters to the editor like it was the 1960’s. They didn’t want to be called sexist and so they got considerably more sexist. It highlighted the problem that led into the convention problem — marginalized authors, pub pros and fans were expected to suck the discrimination up without complaint like in the past and if they didn’t, they were being mean. Members of SFWA rightly pointed out that they didn’t pay dues to be treated as petitioners and second-class members when they had complaints about the organization or its trade magazine, R&M lost their column and the woman editor of the Bulletin resigned.

    For conservatives like Beale and Brad, the SFWA is just an elite club which puts out an economically useful award. But SFWA is a legal advocacy organization, the closest thing SFF writers have to the Screenwriters Guild, and is supposed to use their collective might to pressure publishers on business issues that affect its members. That includes when marginalized authors are being discriminated against by publishers and the industry and aren’t being treated as equal professionals, like say women authors facing sexist and sexual harassment at conventions. SFWA has gone to bat for authors on things like Harlequin doing shady practices or helping negotiate for effected authors over Night Shade Books’ bankruptcy and sale, and they did figure out (with some hiccups) ways to include self-pub authors, but being a volunteer organization, they have frequently dropped the ball on modern issues.

    One area that they tried to get ahead on was in establishing a standard code of conduct as professionals for its members at conventions. That’s not an unusual thing for a trade organization to do — specify what business practices members need to follow to be members in good standing. The Association of Authors Representatives, for instances, won’t let literary agents charge reading fees for submissions and be a member. And it is the basis on which Beale was ejected from the SFWA as well — he abused his access as a member to launch a racial attack on another member through SFWA. But when your position is that you should be able to do whatever you like even if it harms the ability of other authors to do their jobs at a convention and violates their civil rights, you’re obviously going to be against any sort of professional code of conduct or equal standards. Which is partly what Kowal was complaining about re being SFWA VP.

    So the Bulletin fracas, while a relatively mild conflict involving calls to modernize and professionalize the SFWA, was sort of the kick-off of a wider wave of trying to bring SFF publishing, bookselling, media and conventions into the 21st century. It also was probably the situation that then helped the Puppies believe that there was mass conservative anger towards marginalized authors pushing for change in SFF that would help them out in their efforts. It possibly also made sense to them to then cast Scalzi as a leader of the left and a good target since he apologized and suggested reforms, as well as his making the vow and getting other authors to follow about codes of conduct in conventions the next year in 2014. (It was a very big deal that got major media coverage when he refused to directly attend San Diego ComicCon because they didn’t have an adequate code of conduct.)

    Liked by 3 people

      1. For Beale, it was really about revenge for getting booted from what again he sees as an elite (elitist once he was ousted) club, which happened as you note that same year. He and others like Brad mistook people being upset about their pal Mike Resnick being taken to task and made an example of a larger point as evidence that SFF was ripe for a right-wing up-rising against all those mouthy marginalized authors. (For the record, I have liked a number of Resnick’s writings — and his daughter’s — and he was generally well-liked in the field. Few people involved in the Bulletin incident saw Resnick or his co-author as vindictive or bad, but that’s always the problem. All it requires is a stubborn refusal to see that old patterns of behavior actually hurt and block others in marginalized groups.)

        Subsequent incidents just upped that idea. Kowal daring to complain about a small minority of people who liked to gum up the works of the SFWA organization, for example, got her labelled an uppity nobody who should shut up, when, as previously noted, she actually had been liked by a number of the Puppies. The attacks on her were highly gendered and sexist, proving points she and others made.

        As you mention in your latest post, a lot was going on in 2013 and also in 2014 in these areas. And part of the conflicts also stemmed from the fact that various marginalized authors were making some headway in their careers and weren’t avoiding speaking out from the wider platform they then had. That was a situation that disgruntled a number of well-known folk, such as Silverberg who seems to have gotten increasingly sexist in his older years. The Puppies would cast each of these situations as a supposedly conservative majority (who liked the status quo) being bedeviled by a tyrannical SJW minority (while refusing to consider why marginalized authors might have fewer numbers than dominant group authors in the first place and denigrating the popularity of some of them as insincere social kowtowing.)

        They cast the code of conducts struggles in that light too. But what was really happening in those conflicts was a bunch of people who believed that they could handle any difficult situations that came up instead of having standard procedures and then frequently didn’t want to deal with those situations, especially if the person being complained about was someone known to them. The idea that you needed a set and clearly followed system, not leaving it up to the whims of individuals who are often highly biased, was in full discussion then, and the Puppies kept trying to paint this as an invasion. Well, really they kept trying to paint everything as an invasion and themselves as keepers of the fort. This is a tendency of conservatism in general as a power grab for declaring righteous authority.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat Goodwin: And jammed into that was a column by a guy who few knew that insisted women authors would get ahead in their careers if they stopped with the feminism, smiled more and never criticized the men about discrimination issues, just like Barbie with Ken

      That was the really bizarre part of the SFWA Bulletin #200. Two elder SFF authors, who had a regular column in the magazine, doing the same sexist shit they’d been doing for years? Not unexpected. But a male crime and horror author who’s not really known in SFF circles, being invited to do an incredibly sexist op-ed piece about how women should be meek and stay in their place, in an issue that was ostensibly dedicated to celebrating women in the profession? It’s pretty hard to see that as being anything other than Rabe getting a proxy writer in to say what she herself wanted to say. Because why else would she have accepted that piece of trash, especially if it were sent to her unsolicited for publication?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know if it was unsolicited or not, if Rabe did any work on it or not or if Rabe has hang-ups about fellow women authors in the profession or not. Scalzi, it seems pretty clear from what he said, just didn’t read all the stuff and he rightly took the blame for it. Rabe just resigned and slunk off; I don’t think she was much involved in conversations about it and that did make it rather mysterious.

        Rabe definitely wouldn’t have wanted to tangle with R&M over their long-running column and it’s possible she felt pressured by others to use the Red Sonja cover and/or let the Barbie column into the mix by influential people, but it is, as you note, a bizarre incident. If it had been one of these gaffes only, there would still have been some uproar and discussion, but it was really the cumulative effect that indicated and reflected wider ranging problems with SFWA. Nobody had paid much attention to the Bulletin for years and everybody realized after that this was a problem, especially as non-members could get hold of the Bulletin, making it one of the very public faces of the SFWA.

        But making changes about how the Bulletin would be managed going forwards did of course produce wild rumors about “censorship” and “quotas” and who is on this possible Editorial Board and how much power do they have over the editor, etc. And, as you know, Silverberg believed some of that, got Truesdale to write a screed, edited the screed, and then he and Truesdale proceeded to lie to some of the biggest names in the business who were pals of Resnick and worried about how things were now going to be run. Some of them read a petition version that was different, some of them didn’t read it at all but signed it, and when the controversy was unleashed, Truesdale’s original version also got released, stuffed with anti-women hatred. It was explained to the petitioners that they were completely wrong about what they were petitioning about and the whole thing was dismissed but it still ended up being pretty hurtful. When you have people like C.J. Cherryh signing a petition saying women have too many civil rights, someone whom a lot of the women authors truly looked up to, it was deeply saddening.

        But that’s a later chapter. 🙂


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