CW: overview of abuse by SFF icons
The 2020 Hugo awards ceremony has been widely discussed and derided. As toastmaster, an unfettered George R. R. Martin rambled on about Hugos old and past. He also mentioned the awards he’d won, once or twice. The worth of his contributions can be best measured in its length; so much that there is a “When The Toastmaster Talks Less” supercut. There were many technical glitches, and GRRM seemed to have taken more care selecting his panoply of hats than finding out how to pronounce the names of the (international) winners. When a Black magazine for speculative fiction, FIYAH, is up for a Hugo, it matters that it’s pronounced correctly.
Fairly early on in the proceedings, Rebecca F. Kuang gave her acceptance speech as Astounding Award winner for Best New Writer. It’s worth listening to in her own voice. It certainly had us sitting upright. In it, she says:
“If I were talking to a new writer coming to the genre in 2020, I would tell them – well, if you’re an author of colour you will very likely be paid only a fraction of the advance that white writers are getting. You will be pigeon holed, you will be miscategorised, you will be lumped in with other authors of colour whose work doesn’t remotely resemble yours. The chances are very high that you will be sexually harassed at conventions or the target of racist micro-aggressions, or very often just overt racism. People will mispronounce your name repeatedly, and in public, even people who are on your publishing team. Your cover art will be racist, you have to push against that, and the way people talk about you and your literature will be tied to your identity and your personal trauma, instead of the stories you’re actually trying to tell.”
Then switching back to GRRM celebrating The Dean of Science Fiction, Robert A Heinlein, once more is jarring by its contrast. To fondly remember John W. Campbell, after Jeanette Ng’s acceptance speech of last year is tone deaf. Actually, to repeatedly call the award she won “The Astounnnnnding Award”, and to bring Campbell up while Ng’s speech was nominated for (and winner of) Best Related Work is suspect. If we are to survive as a fandom, we not only need to welcome new voices and new faces, we need to not cling to the past by hook and by crook; especially not where that past is problematic. I’m not proposing to Burn It All Down; I grew up with those old men myself, and have my fond memories of some stories and books. We can love the works of yesterday, despite its flaws and them being ‘of their time’, yet that’s something else than sharing fond memories of their authors.
As it has turned out, a number of those authors have behaved in ways that are not okay in 2020, and were not okay in the eyes of the time – except for in a sordid “what happens at the Con, stays at the Con” kind of way. GRRM fondly remembers a time in which conventions had a culture which we really shouldn’t want to go back to – not because we’re ‘soy’, ‘cuck’ or a ‘cry baby’, but because of common decency. Let’s have a look-see:
- John W. Campbell – The Award for Best New Writer is no longer named after him, due to his racist views.
- H.P. Lovecraft – Anti-semitism and racism. Since 2015, the World Fantasy Award no longer bears his face (so, f got there 4 years before sf did).
- Isaac Asimov – Serial sexual harassment, and rather smug about it too. Think about that whenever you see that grin between those sideburns.
- Robert A Heinlein – The Dean of Science Fiction has many scratching their heads. His career went from writing “let’s send our kids into space to zap bugs” potboilers (that Paul Verhoeven made them fascists in his film of Starship Troopers is not accidental) to a preoccupation with “incest is cool, as my grandpa is hot” WTF-ery in his later work
- Julius “Uncle Julie” Schwartz – Assaulted teenage artist and had a general case of Wandering Hands. As Goodwill Ambassador for DC Comics, he liked to pin badges on young women’s breasts.
- Forrest “Uncle Forry” Ackerman (who was it again that said “beware of Uncles in fandom”?) – Heidi Saha, sexual harassment, stalking and child porn
It’s a small mercy, perhaps, that GRRM didn’t get round to fondly remeniscing the Zimmer Bradleys.
Becoming aware of these less savoury aspects of their personalities, at times visible in their work, has put me off them. Your mileage may vary in how much it taints their books and stories for yourself – “death of the author” and so on. However blissful claiming ignorance of their history within fandom may be, it’s insulting and actively makes fandom a hostile environment for women, POC, queer people; basically everyone who is not white, heterosexual, cisgender and male.
We just wrote how in Sword & Sorcery, one of the genre’s dinosaurs marched roaring and bellowing into the tar pit. George R. R. Martin, it seems, also has the tar pulling at his shins. A charitable reading is that he goes in ignorance.