I am not a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, though I did spend my teen years and much of my twenties dreaming of the day when I would qualify. Back then, membership in SFWA was the ultimate stamp of legitimacy, beyond even having a book on the shelves (which I didn’t) or an agent in your corner (which I did).
Much like the “inevitable” Sarah Hoyt, though, I eventually soured on SFWA. Granting agents and editors membership in a organization meant to advocate for and protect writers against agents, editors, and publishers just felt like an inherent conflict of interest. How diligent SFWA, made up of writers, would be in taking on a major publisher despite possible repercussions to their own careers also seemed worth a little concern, because human nature. And SFWA generally appeared to be focused more on policing the low-hanging fruit of small publishers than on the contract terms and practices of the majors, though maybe their real victories really were behind the scenes.
More and more, SFWA just seemed locked into the “past.” Even today, three short story sales to a “qualifying” market decades ago gets you for membership, but a big-selling indie novel counts for nothing. And when Amazon tried for better terms with IPG, SFWA came down squarely on the distributor’s side, as if maintaining higher book prices in a genre increasingly filled with lower-priced indies was a smart business move to protect their authors.
Then came that SWFA Bulletin cover, the Resnick/Malzberg columns, the Vox Day explusion, yadda yadda, and we have the perfect storm that’s either “Angry Racist Sexist Dinosaurs Who Don’t Want Women and Minorities to Write SF and Should Just Go Away vs. the Inclusive and Diverse Writers of the Future” or “Writers Who Care About Story First and Free Expression vs. the PC Message Fiction Inclusion Checklisting Social Justice Warriors Who Want to Tell You What to Read,” depending on which side you fell. And if you thought, then or now, there are some decent people on both sides who have a valid point or two along with some overreaction and overheated rhetoric, well, then you learned how Frank Sinatra must have felt when he was trying to get Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis back together.
This Dave Truesdale petition against the job description for the new Bulletin editor, though…
Wow. Just wow.
Are the new guidelines really just a harmless way to ensure inclusion and diversity? Are they a backdoor method to keep out certain social and political views (or even individual words) that an activist faction disagrees with? Is Dave Truesdale, a former SFWA member and Bulletin editor himself, a champion of Free Speech or a bad guy with an axe to grind, and has anyone told Larry Flynt those two things are now mutually exclusive? Are giants in the field like Robert Silverberg, David Gerrold, and Norman Spinrad, who all signed the petition, really just ignorant fools with no clue what the First Amendment actually means? And would those criticizing the petition and its signatories with legalistic parsing that SFWA, as a private organization, can do whatever it wants still accept that reasoning if their next “dangerous vision” found itself on the chopping block because a “select volunteer” deemed it offensive?
My mind, it boggles.
More amazing is the reaction to writers like Amy Sterling Casil, Carolyn J. Cherryh, Sheila Finch, Susan Shwartz, Janis Ian, Nancy Kress, and Mercedes Lackey signing the petition. Which range from This woman science fiction writer doesn’t want women to write science fiction to This writer signed a petition about editorial guidelines for a publication few people even know about let alone read and therefore has betrayed me to I will never read this person again to These writers are banned from submitting to my small publishing house! (I’m sure SFWA will get on that last one right away.)
In other words, the SFWA controversies have now reached the “You’re no longer pure enough” stage of the outrage cycle. Like that Seinfeld episode where Kramer didn’t want to wear the ribbon at the AIDS walk—and got a beat down because if he didn’t wear the ribbon, he obviously wasn’t “against” AIDS.
I’m still trying to figure out which author who signed the petition is actually Kramer, but my money’s on David Gerrold, because I like him, and I like Kramer, but I’m also getting really tired of waiting for that next Chtorr novel…