Previously on Debarkle: Towards the end of John Scalzi’s terms as SFWA President, a series of controversies arose over sexism and racism within the organisation. A common theme was resistance to change from a group of SFWA ‘old guard’.
[content warning: a later section discusses issues around child abuse]
By August 2013, the expulsion of Vox Day from the SFWA was seen by some as putting a line under the controversies that had been consuming the SFWA that year. Cora Buhlert rounded up events with a blog post that finished with:
“But at least the SFWA saga had come, if not to a “happily ever after” then at least a “happy for now” ending.”http://corabuhlert.com/2013/08/16/sfwa-drama-comes-to-a-conclusion/
However, in many ways, Vox Day’s behaviour had been a loud but minor sideshow to events. The core group of objectors to the SFWA’s more progressive direction still had the same objections and issues. What was lacking was a nexus on which another round of arguments could be had.
Elsewhere, other people had been drawing their own conclusions, including (as we saw in the last chapter) some of the writers at Mad Genius Club. A different take on the situation came from Baen author John Ringo, who saw ulterior motives in John Scalzi’s behaviour during the year.
“If anyone has been wondering why Scalzi has been picking the rather stupid fights he’s been picking lately: [link to an announcement of John Scalzi’s Redshirt’s winning a Hugo Award] That’s why. There’s nothing wrong with Scalzi’s writing. This is a reasonably good novel (from what I’ve heard) with no real SF or literary merit beyond being a reasonably good novel. But he’s been speaking truth to power about the degradation of women in SF along with other idiocracy and so he’s beloved by all the has been liberal neurotics who control the Hugo voting and balloting. Look to many more in the future as long as he toes the Party line. Huzzah.”https://web.archive.org/web/20180519182929if_/https://www.facebook.com/john.ringo.90857/posts/10151560891450887
Ringo was convinced that there was nothing particularly special about Redshirts and that it had only won because John Scalzi had been appeasing the people who ‘control’ the Hugo voting. Why the Hugo Awards would have an overtly pro-feminist establishment, while Scalzi had been struggling with an apparently anti-feminist old guard at the SFWA was unclear, doubly so as some of the figures pushing back at the SFWA were also Hugo Award veterans (for example, veteran author Robert Silverberg). For Ringo, a feminist/liberal cabal was a simpler answer to why he had not made any impression on Hugo voters. Meanwhile, in the comments to Ringo’s post, Larry Correia assured people that he would mount another Hugo Award campaign in 2014:
“So I’m totally going to so it again this year. Bigger. Because I am motivated entirely out of spite. 🙂”ibid
January brought news of one possible consequence to the SFWA in-fighting: a break-away organisation? The Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling announced its first permanent president. At File 770, Mike Glyer carried the story with additional information:
“Judging by a comment on Lou Antonelli’s blog, SASS seems to have coalesced in reaction against the hostile exchanges then happening in the SFWA Forum per se, and not in support of any particular outcome. “[The] group is for people sick of PC bullshit …” he said initially, then amplified, “This group is a safe haven for people to meet together over their common love of speculative fiction. If someone WHO BELONGS TO SASS attacks anyone in the group for something that [has] NOTHING to do with speculative fiction, they don’t need to belong SASS. They can join other outfits.””http://file770.com/burstein-named-sass-president/
The board of SASS included Vice-President Brad Torgersen and Secretary Lou Antonelli. Without wanting to throw in too many spoilers for the story of the Debarkle, I won’t tease readers with how this organisation would go on to develop. After a flurry of activity in 2014, the blog for the organisation remained silent until 2020, when Louis Antonelli announced that he was standing for the SFWA board (he lost). Whatever trauma 2013 had thrown at the SFWA, it wasn’t going to break into rival organisations.
Meanwhile, after the resignation of its editor and furore over the SFWA Bulletin, the organisation decided to restart the magazine and in December 2013 began the process of finding a new editor to work within a new set of guidelines. In February 2014, that process had become too much for Dave Truesdale, editor of Tangent Magazine and a former editor of the SFWA Bulletin. Believing the magazine was going to become dominated by ‘political correctness’, Truesdale began to organise a petition.
Blogger, reviewer and fan-writer Natalie Luhrs was sent a version of the petition but to her surprise, discovered that Truesdale had originally been circulating a long and more inflammatory version of the petition. Both version though carried a similar theme that the SFWA’s new model for the Bulletin amounted to censorship and an attack on free speech. Luhrs naturally was puzzled as to how either concept made sense for an edited professional magazine:
“Ultimately, though, Truesdale’s argument is thoroughly dishonest. He’s trying to get people riled up over someone editing the publication and he’s doing so in an incredibly offensive and gross manner. He’s claiming that this is a free speech issue when it isn’t. SFWA is not the government. They can’t stop you from saying whatever damn fool thing you want. All they can do is stop you from saying it in their publication.”http://www.pretty-terrible.com/oh-dear-sfwa-bulletin-petition/
In the comments to Luhrs’s post, former SFWA Vice-President, Mary Robinette Kowal pointed out that Dave Truesdale was not even a member of the SFWA. Even more notably, author Robert Silverberg added a comment to explain both his support and involvement in the revisions to the petition:
“Neil Clarke seems to see no difference between the authors of a piece revising it before it is made public and the imposition of a board of review to make sure that the editor of a publication does not print anything that might offend any part of the membership of the group that receives that publication. The first is the normal revision of a draft that any writer does before releasing material to be seen by others. A number of us saw flaws in the original Truesdale draft and asked that they be removed, and they were. The second is the formal statement that the organization’s own editor is not to be trusted to apply common sense and appropriate taste to the work of editing. One would hope that readers of SFWA’s magazine would not take offense at anything they read in a publication that is intended to help them in the pursuit of their professional careers, but the appropriate way of objecting to such offensive material would be to write a letter of protest to the magazine, not to force the editor to be overruled in advance by a committee that determines what might be deemed offensive.”Robert Silverberg at https://www.pretty-terrible.com/oh-dear-sfwa-bulletin-petition/#comment-25204
Despite the lack of clarity in the petition’s thesis, it attracted some notable signatories including Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, and Gene Wolfe, as well as Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, David Brin and Gregory Benford. Naturally, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg (whose columns in the Bulletin had been central to the arguments in 2013) were signatories, as was Brad Torgersen as a former Nebula Award nominee. However, given the length of even the amended version, it isn’t entirely clear what people were endorsing. The text is more of an essay, including a set of emails between Truesdale and the SFWA president. However, towards the end there is a more conventionally petition like section that shows the intent of the petition:
In light of the preceding correspondence we, the undersigned, object to the new SFWA requirements for editor of the SFWA Bulletin, as set forth on the SFWA website. Specifically, we have the following objections: A “review board” implies a group of persons, as yet unnamed, who can veto content submitted by members if the board deems it “offensive” to a sub-group of SFWA. This opens the door to censorship of opinions that do not jibe with the personal beliefs of those on the review board, whereas SFWA should be open to the airing of many varieties of opinions, especially on such sensitive subjects as sexism, racism, religion, and politics. The proposed requirements are so vague that they leave many critical questions unaddressed. Several among them: Given that it is our strong belief that there should be no “advisory” or “review” board, who would hypothetically sit on this board and how would they be chosen? Would advertising copy (book or magazine covers) be subject to review as well, especially in the high dollar advertising rates the Bulletin charges for its special Nebula issue? The editor of the Bulletin should have discretion over its contents; that is why he or she is chosen as editor. There should be no advisory or review board. In view of these considerations, we ask that SFWA (1) withdraw this slate of requirements for the Bulletin and (2) open a discussion where all viewpoints can be considered on this matter before drafting any further sets of guidelines for SFWA publications.https://tangentonline.com/news/news-news/sfwa-president-endorses-bulletin-censorship/
The petition received broader coverage at places such as File 770 and The Daily Dot, as well as support from the Mad Genius Club. Meanwhile, Brad Torgersen had his own ideas about how to fix the SFWA. His plans including stricter rules for membership so that it would only be for professional authors and higher fees. He also called for the organisations “front men” to be employees (rather than elected officers), hired to run the SFWA like a business and thought the Nebulas should be abolished. He also wanted a strict ‘no politics’ rule:
“5. No politics, no politics, no politics.https://web.archive.org/web/20170605192106/https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/how-to-fix-the-sfwa/
SFWA should not, as an org, concern itself with who is sitting in the U.S. White House, nor the U.S. Senate, nor the U.S. Congress. It should not concern itself with overseas military operations, nor domestic social welfare programs, nor city and municipal elections. SFWA should also not concern itself with social studies and humanities department theory, to include sex and sexism theory, transgender theory, race and ethnic theory, and so forth. The SFWA ought to be a business org dedicated to protecting and expanding the business opportunities of its members. Anything outside of business concerns would be strictly off the table. Something for individual members to pursue on their own time, outside the walls of the org. This will most likely not ever happen because the present SFWA body is increasingly dominated by amateur and pro-am voices who want to make SFWA into an explicitly political organ with explicitly political doctrines, to include the org’s own magazine — its content, its editorial slant, etc. Ideally, the SFWA Bulletin would be neither Mother Jones nor The National Review. Alas, the reality is that the Bulletin is going to reflect the loudest opinions and voices in the present org, regardless of whether or not these opinions have anything to do with business, or whether the voices have any qualifications to speak on business matters.”
The blame for the SFWA’s move leftwards (as Torgersen perceived it) was due to these less established authors. That a younger (and more diverse) membership were more likely to be less well-established writers escaped him, even though he was still a relatively new writer.
Despite some high profile support, Truesdale’s petition had little impact. The SFWA President noted its existence and moved on. However, discontent was still rumbling around the same forums where many of the SFWA’s old guard could be found. This became clear with the release of screenshots of discussion from a list-serv thread used by several long time SFWA members and people associated with the organisation. In an article on the issue, The Daily Dot used this cautionary tagline:
“When you’re going to rant about how sci-fi publishing is being invaded by women and minorities, make sure you’re not doing it on a public forum.”https://www.dailydot.com/irl/sfwa-sexism-sci-fi-nebulas-mary-kowal/
The article highlighted some derogatory comments by editor and agent Sean P Fodera, that specifically targetted Mary Robinette Kowal. Fodera blamed Kowal for the “whole anti-sexism matter” and went on to suggest she was hypocritical because of how she dressed. Fodera’s reaction was to threaten to sue people for libel because of the article but unsurprisingly that fueled only more commentary and mockery. Eventually, Fodera apologised but the incident illustrated how entrenched the problem with sexism within the SFWA and publishing was. Any moves on issues such as the representation of women, casual sexism or sexual harassment were still likely to get significant and organised pushback from influential people including famous authors or people with influence in publishing.
2014 brings a more shocking scandal
[content warning for issues around child abuse]
Peace may not have broken out exactly at the SFWA but the pushback had demonstrably failed. However, Vox Day was still looking for ways to foment scandal and bad publicity for the organisation that had kicked him out in 2014. To do that he would need to exploit a different issue.
On June 3 2014 Tor.com published an essay celebrating the life and work of Marion Zimmer Bradley. The article covered many biographical details about the writer (who had died in 1999) and talked about the influence of her work. However, what was glaringly missing was the history of child sexual abuse by her husband Walter Breen and her defence of Breen’s actions over several years. It was a shocking and unjustifiable omission but it was also an aspect of Marion Zimmer Bradley that many of her readers simply were not aware of.
Writer Deirdre Saoirse Moen rightly took Tor.com to task for hiding this aspect of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s life from the essay. Saoirse Moen followed up her first post on the issue by making contact with Zimmer Bradley’s (now adult) children. What she learnt from them was even more deeply shocking than what was already public (if rarely spoken about) knowledge. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter had replied to Saoirse Moen’s emails explaining that not only had Marion Zimmer Bradley enabled Breen’s abusive behaviour but that Zimmer Bradley was also herself an abuser who had abused her own children.
Saoirse Moen’s posts on the issue made international headlines. The Guardian newspaper covered the shocked reaction among the writers and fans:
“The world of science fiction and fantasy is in shock, following news that the daughter of the bestselling late fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley has accused her mother of abusing her as a child. Authors such as John Scalzi, G Willow Wilson and Jim Hines have reacted to the allegations against a woman who had been regarded a pillar of the SFF community with horror. The writer Janni Lee Simner has announced she will be donating her earnings from a story set in a fictional world created by Bradley to an anti-abuse charity.”https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/27/sff-community-marion-zimmer-bradley-daughter-accuses-abuse
The revelations were very difficult for many people to cope with. As with many famous authors, Zimmer Bradley had been an influential writer for people at a seminal time in their lives. Her fantasy works often dealt with sexual issues that many people have said helped them understand their own issues.
Not one to let a tragedy go by without making use of it, Day decided that the revelations could be used to demonstrate that he had been right all along. Having spent over a decade bemoaning the evils of women science fiction writers, here, at last, was a genuine example of one who had behaved undeniably monstrously. For an added bonus to Day’s narrative, the revelations had been precipitated by that hagiographic article at Tor.com for which he could blame Patrick Nielsen Hayden (and John Scalzi as well for no good reason).
Whether Day only considered using claims of paedophilia against the SFWA once the revelations about Marion Zimmer Bradley occurred or whether he had already been considering it was unclear. Day would later state that he regarded using false accusations of paedophilia as a useful rhetorical attack. Homophobic groups have also attempted to claim paedophilia is an inherent danger in recognising basic human rights of LGBTQI people, a tactic Day would have been familiar with.
Day sent off an indignant letter to the SFWA, conflating a variety of issues with Marion Zimmer Bradley and his own recent expulsion:
“First, as a tolerant and inclusive organization, does the behavior which SFWA tolerates include abnormal sexual behavior such as homosexuality, child abuse, torture, and incestuous rape by its members? Second, will the SFWA Board be purging Marion Zimmer Bradley from SFWA’s historical membership list and removing all references to her, her estate, and her estate’s agent from the SFWA web site? Third, will the SFWA Board be retroactively expunging from the Nebula Awards list Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1976 Best Novel nomination for The Heritage of Hastur and Mary C. Aldridge’s 1990 Best Short Story nomination for “The Adinkra Cloth”, published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. As a former life member of SFWA expelled by the current SFWA Board for a tweet deemed inappropriate, I should be very interested to hear SFWA’s formal position on homosexuality, child molestation, torture and incestuous rape by its members. I look forward to reading your response.“https://web.archive.org/web/20140617121758/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/06/contamination-by-association.html
As a new salvo in the SFWA conflict, it didn’t gain much traction except with Day’s own followers. Zimmer Bradley had died in 1999, long before the current board had much sway. Furthermore, he was now demanding of the SFWA that they take steps to censor member’s behaviour (or in this case an ex-member) for actions outside of the organisation. Despite his supposed concern for child safety, Day’s letter contained no concrete proposals that would further the cause of protecting children from abuse.
However, Day had two other targets to use to help portray the SFWA as in some way sympathetic to child abuse. The first was an attempt to use author (and SFWA Grandmaster) Samuel Delany’s frank discussions about his sexuality and his sexual experiences as a child to cast him as abusive or as endorsing abuse. Delany would later speak about this at length in response.
Day’s third target had some more substance. Ed Kramer was an editor of fantasy and horror fiction and co-founder of the major pop-culture convention Dragon*Con in Georgia. Kramer had been arrested in 2000 on charges of child molestation and had spent over a decade fighting those charges. In the process, he had enlisted the support of many people within science fiction communities who believed he was either innocent or was being treated unjustly by the court system. Famous names who had provided him with some support included Harlan Ellison and former SFWA President Robert Sawyer — unwise of them but at no point were they endorsing his actual crimes.
In December 2013, Kramer’s trial finally started and he had pleaded guilty. In June of 2014, Day noted that according to the membership directory that he had access to, Kramer was still a member of the SFWA. In fact, as was later revealed, Kramer was not still a member in 2014 as he had let his associate membership lapse.
Day would continue on this line of argument but at the time gained little traction. In the context of the disputes of 2013, a focus on Zimmer Bradley (who had received some support from no less than Robert Heinlein at the time of Breen’s expulsion from Worldcon) or Ed Kramer (associated with Dragon*Con, a convention favoured by many right-leaning authors) or indeed on SFWA’s external reprehensible actions were not beneficial to the idea that the SFWA should mind its own business when it came to author behaviour.
However, this tactic in 2014 was more of a trial run for Day. The idea of using child abuse claims as a kind of rhetorical weapon was one Day was experimenting with and would use again in the future.
Next Time: Larry Correia campaigns again in Sad Puppies 2
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20210126101109/http://sasswritersgroup.blogspot.com/
-  https://tangentonline.com/news/news-news/sfwa-president-endorses-bulletin-censorship/
-  http://file770.com/petition-targets-sfwa-bulletin-oversight/ and https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/fandom/controversial-email-inflames-sexism-debate-sci-fi/
-  https://madgeniusclub.com/2014/02/13/sfwa-can-haz-glittery-hoo-haa/
-  https://www.sfwa.org/2014/02/11/presidential-statement-regarding-sfwa-bulletin/
-  https://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/02/16/a-note-to-sean-fodera/
-  https://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/02/20/sean-fodera-makes-an-apology/
-  see the “The Great Breen Boondoggle” section of chapter 4 https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/02/14/debarkle-chapter-4-an-inadequate-history-of-fandom-worldcon-1939-2000/
-  https://deirdre.net/2014/06/03/marion-zimmer-bradley-gave-us-new-perspectives-all-right
-  https://deirdre.net/2014/06/10/marion-zimmer-bradley-its-worse-than-i-knew/
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20140613131847/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/06/pink-sff-is-worse-than-you-think.html
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20161117133439/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2016/11/throw-out-oed.html
-  https://medium.com/difficult-subjects/samuel-r-delany-on-nambla-and-consent-c80c63d879fc
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_E._Kramer
-  http://file770.com/kramer-trial-slated-to-begin-today/
-  http://file770.com/kramer-seeks-more-freedom/
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20140626004153/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/06/sfwa-still-harbors-child-molesters.html