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. 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.”http://file770.com/one-resignation-many-ripples/
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”ibid
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.”http://file770.com/one-resignation-many-ripples/#comment-130212
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.'”http://file770.com/the-process/
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. 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. 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,…”https://web.archive.org/web/20131107200438/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/06/seriously-fascist-womens-association.html
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.”https://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/dear-twelve-rabid-weasels-of-sfwa-please-shut-the-fuck-up/
Kowal did not name the twelve people. Some people assumed that one was Vox Day but in fact, he was not. 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.”https://web.archive.org/web/20131109133514/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-never-will-be-attacks-jerry-pournelle.html
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.”https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/randall-garrett-and-the-arthur-clarke-prediction-about-love-and-marriage/
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.”ibid
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.
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“https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/writer-dad-mike-resnick/
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.quote from Brad Torgersen https://web.archive.org/web/20130818164023/http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/sfwa–boldly-snatching-obscurity-from-the-jaws-of-relevance 
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?”
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
-  Retro Hugo awarded in 2001 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Fan_Writer
-  https://www.sfwa.org/2013/06/01/sfwa-bulletin-task-force-announced/
-  http://www.jimchines.com/2013/06/roundup-of-some-anonymous-protesters-sfwa-bulletin-links/
-  https://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/015221.html#1381892 “RSHD” stood for “racist sexist homophobic dipshit” a term John Scalzi was using for Day.
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20130702031015/https://specfriction.tumblr.com/ There’s some ethical questions about reposting these but given they have been thoroughly aired for years and as Pournelle repeated what he said publically, I decided it was OK to do so.
-  This claim but Torgersen that some SFWA members attempted derail his Campbell bid does not come up very often. I don’t have details beyond this.