The Most Recent SFWA Kerfuffle

picture of graffiti depicting an image from The Crying of Lot 49“Hey, how about that SFWA mess?” my brother asked in an e-mail.

I winced, because I knew exactly what he meant. In my capacity as the lead of the moderating team on the SFWA internal forums, I’d been reading about it for the past few days – and working to keep the discussion — on those boards, at least — somewhat sane. There was a whole lot of shouting going on. And some of it, I think, could be avoided if some of the shouters had actually taken the time to listen to (by which I mean read) what was being said.

That’s a problem happening on both sides (and honestly, there aren’t really “two sides”. There’s a lot of possible takes on this and part of the problem is this idea of “us vs. them”.) “OMG they are attacking Mike Resnick!” screams one group. “OMG old white dudes telling us what to do!” shouts another.* There’s assumptions being made that’s there’s no room for the organization for both sides and that each is trying to somehow oust the other.

So…I’d urge you to actually read what’s under discussion, as well as how it’s being discussed. The article in question was third in a series of what seem like bad moves on the SFWA Bulletin’s part. First there was a cover that many felt was inappropriate for a professional magazine. This was accompanied by an article in the same Bulletin written by Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick that, while doing an admirable job of trying to document the role women have played in the early days of SF, also applied appearance standards to those women in a way that did not seem congruent with how they’re applied to men, as well as emphasizing how anomalous these creatures were by appending “lady” to editor, so we have editors and lady editors. Since very few of us lady editors actually manipulate the keyboard or pen with our vulvas**, the need to specify gender seems a little unnecessary, but okay. That was followed by an issue with a column in which the writer used Barbie as an example in what seems like a misguided rhetorical strategy. (I am trying to be somewhat neutral about all this, but you can no doubt tell that my sympathies do lie more on one side than another.)

And then came a third issue, containing a rebuttal to the criticisms by Malzberg and Resnick, which did exactly what I’m talking about. I’m forced to believe that since they identify the criticisms as “anonymous,” they didn’t bother to go read any of them, in which case they would have noticed that they weren’t anonymous but that people were quite willing to attach their names to them and had been doing so from the start. And the reply — well, go read it and decide for yourself whether or not you think of it a reasoned response to criticism.

Since then tempers have continued to flare, some people have resigned from SFWA while others decided to stay, a task force has been formed to try and figure out how to make the Bulletin more professional, and on and on, including lots of shouting about “PC” and censorship. So what I’d like to say is, if you decide to weigh in, exercise a little due diligence and do your homework beforehand. That means read the pieces as well as some of the discussion. Don’t rely on how someone else is interpreting or framing the debate, because that’s just lazy. Don’t rely on someone else’s summation of events (including this one!) but decide for yourself. Jim Hines has put together a list of some of the commentary. If you’re a SFWA member, come on over to the forums and take a look. If you don’t understand some of the objections, take the time to figure out what’s underlying them. Because ain’t nobody shouting just for shouting’s sake.

And remember – SFWA’s not a monolithic entity. There’s close to two thousand members, and that’s a whole lot of different points of view.

One of the great things about this is that there are useful, informative, and interesting discussions going on. There are changes being made, there’s awareness being raised. In the past I’ve sometimes ranted to my spouse about the odd forms of Luddism that sometimes appear on the part of some people writing about the future, and it seems to me this convulsion is helping drag SFWA into the 21st century as well as a more professional form. I look forward to seeing what’s to come.

* I should note that this is a rough paraphrase of a couple of the shouts and not an encapsulation of everything that’s been said.
** Feel free, fellow “lady editors,” to correct me on that if I’m wrong.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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