Monsters of the Idway

Selected archives of Chicon III, the 1962 Worldcon chaired by Earl Kemp, were exhibited online by the Northern Illinois University’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department in conjunction with this year’s Chicago Worldcon.

There are letters from Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak, E.E. Smith, and assorted other pros, plus Kemp’s invitation to Isaac Asimov to deliver a talk on “The Positive Power of Posterior Pinching” and Asimov’s coy but interested reply. (Apparently the talk didn’t happen – at least the item isn’t listed in the Chicon III program book.)

Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds spotted this correspondence and brought it to the attention of fans who are discussing harassment in the wake of Readercon, in a post called “We Don’t Do That Anymore”.

The answering comments – people groaning and throwing up on their shoes — were interrupted by the arrival of Earl Kemp himself for a pleasant stroll down memory lane, sans clue:

What a wonderful find. Thank you very much for posting this. It’s nice to be reminded of some of the good things. I admit I’ve forgotten this, but it certainly was Ike. (There are better stories about him but not here, not now.)

I’m going to disappoint the person who copied the link to me expecting I’d join him in high dudgeon, but let’s be serious. Even Asimov himself seems to have doubted it would go over in 1962 and in 2012 the idea deserves Zwan’s critique.

43 thoughts on “Monsters of the Idway

  1. Mike, I’ve decided to ignore them after making two attempts to contact them. I am pissed off because they didn’t ask my permission to illegally reprint my letter.

    I am further pissed off about the unknown background story. When those files turned up at the university I was shocked because I didn’t even know they had been stolen from me and sold several times before winding up in their collection. The univ backtracked the routes to see who/when/how it had happened.

    I had my own plans for my own personal files. If anything they should have gone to the Eaton Collection, my choice. And they were not to be sold, but donated.

    Add onto that the insults from peculiar people who don’t know anything about what they’re commenting on, add to that at least one legal death threat that, along with the stolen copyright letter, (and one stolen from the Asimov executor) are both worthy of legal prosecution.

    I wish them all well in their oddly conceived world.

    Earl

  2. Two attempts to contact? You left two comments on my blog, one nostalgic for the days of glorifying sexual assault and one suggesting I contact you privately. Uh, no. No, thank you. I have no intention of being out of public sight with you in any way.

  3. Stephanie Zvan—who assumes I must know her, though I’d never heard of her until I used Google—sounds like a charming person who permits posters on her blog to post veiled death threats against people of Earl’s age.

    I sent details of this material to the people on m list of Usual Suspects—which includes FILE 770—and perhaps some sort of harassment charges can be brought.

  4. I promise you, Andrew, that old age is not posting comments on my blog. Seeing that the only mentions of death in the comments involve Asimov (who cannot be threatened) and a note that someone won’t miss Kemp’s generation when they age out, I’m not sure who else could be threatening anyone, veiled or otherwise. Would you like to be more specific about whom you’re publicly accusing?

  5. Oh well, we all know that absolutely nothing good ever happened in the remote past… which began five minutes ago.

  6. Wishing, even out loud, that someone were dead, whether one indivudual or a “generation” (however one is defining the word in context) is not a death threat.

    Before wishing anyone were dead again, however, let us remember what happened when King Henry II of England said “Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?”

  7. As a member of the SF community for 51 years and of the Skeptic community for over a decade, I’m ashamed that all of these mostly unknown and anonymous people are popping up from under their rocks to troll topics which should be discussed rather than set on fire.

    This linked ‘blog’ we’re talking about begins to show an infestation by folks not worth pissing on if they were on fire. It’s a shame to see the topic generating this kind of thing in both communities.

    @Zavn: Please don’t litter, or linger. There are elements of awareness involved in this issue, and you’d only become ineffably disconcerted.

  8. Earl, you should be ashamed of yourself. You’re ignoring what the letters say and pretending that it doesn’t matter that there was and still is a huge problem with harassment in the SF community, because you can’t stand that someone might criticize Isaac Asimov. He certainly deserves to be criticized. Should we just whitewash over his faults and pretend he was an angel? That would serve nobody well, including Asimov.

  9. David Locke, I apologize most humbly for having a “blog” instead of a fanzine. If I switch, will my experience in these matters and my informed opinion suddenly become valid?

    How about if I spell your name wrong? Will you then suddenly understand that you don’t get to limit this discussion to the people who have ignored the topic for decades? Will you realize that trying to retard its progress will only mean that it will happen without your input?

  10. I don’t know if Asimov’s Dirty Old Man routine actually harrassed anyone or not. I thought it was a mild embarrassment that somebody of Asimov’s intellect thought this was an amusing schtick. But does saying, “your breasts are looking superb this morning, Madam” actually constitute harassment? It may be stupid, and on the order of saying, “If I may say so, the bulge in your pants is most becomming,” but if stupid and off-colour remarks are a crime, we have a problem with decided what’s stupid and off-colour. One could just as easily accuse gay man of being off-colour if they remark to a straight man that he would appreciate him in bed. Plenty of uptight straights would happily call a cop! Would they be right to? It seems to me that harassment begins when the word “no” is said. So the issue in my mind is whether Asimov knew to knock it off if women told him to.

    As to that, I haven’t a clue. Someone find a woman in fandom who’s met Asimov and ask — that’s probably most of them over 40 at this point.

  11. Taral, you could try reading the post linked here, and the first comment of that post, and the comments of the post linked under the Harlan Ellison groping incident. You don’t have to ask. People have been telling us for decades.

    Really, this isn’t hard.

  12. David Klaus, since you resorted to copypasta, I’ll add this everywhere I notice your comment:

    Your concern for clarity is commendable. You might want to note that the same results can be achieved by reading carefully.

  13. @Zvan: David Locke, I apologize most humbly for having a “blog” instead of a fanzine. If I switch, will my experience in these matters and my informed opinion suddenly become valid? It’s not a matter of blog vs. fanzine. It’s a matter of a blog which is obviously a trashcan.

    How about if I spell your name wrong? Sorry about the typo on your last name. That’s probably why you misspelled mine; Dave isn’t spelled David except by those to whom “Dave” isn’t the name they would require.

    Will you then suddenly understand that you don’t get to limit this discussion to the people who have ignored the topic for decades? Will you realize that trying to retard its progress will only mean that it will happen without your input?

    As I said, it’s not the topic, it’s the attitude and demeanor of so many of those Mike adequately described as groaning and throwing up on their shoes. Sorry, but watching you attempt to string ideas together and defend yourself is like watching the relay race at the Special Olympics.

  14. It’s a matter of a blog which is obviously a trashcan.

    The blog that earned me guest posts at the Scientific American guest blog? That trashcan? Pull the other one.

    The fact that you don’t want to talk about my experience in these matters is noted.

    As I said, it’s not the topic, it’s the attitude and demeanor of so many of those Mike adequately described as groaning and throwing up on their shoes.

    Oh, I’m sorry. What are the rules here? Substance-free, asserted-not-argued, trite, ingorant, ablist insults only?

    Is this really your qualifications for suggesting you have anything of substance to add on this topic or any other? I’ve had better arguments from fundamentalists.

  15. @Zvan: “What are the rules here? Substance-free, asserted-not-argued, trite, ingorant, ablist insults only?” No, I’m happy to leave that to most of the commenters on your blog. Mike and many of the commenters here have already pointed out the problems with the crap you put up there.

    Your blog caters to trollers. The best thing you can do, in the troller’s opinion, is respond in any way. Then they’ve got a dialog going and the fun begins. Like a usenet troll, there is one and only one way to shut them up. Silence. Let them play in their own back yard. Any other technique involves responding, which only encourages them. I think you can see where this is going, so far as I’m concerned.

    I’m stumped — you clearly exist in a universe that doesn’t intersect this one at any two consecutive points, and yet you still manage to connect to our Internet.

  16. Mike has done no such thing and has not even asserted it. You have done no such thing, merely asserted it. Earl and Andrew have “pointed out” some bizarre things that didn’t happen. David has declared his personal conclusions to be someone else’s responsibility. Taral has not read the post.

    You have no idea what trolling is, while I’ve written and spoken on the topic, both of which have been widely cited. You’re merely using the word as shorthand when you want to call something bad but can’t explain why it should be. Which seems to be all you have up your sleeve.

    And still you don’t know how to put together an insult of substance. I haz a sad.

  17. Really, David? Really? Calling Stephanie retarded is the best you can do? Don’t pretend that the Special Olympics comment was anything but a “retard” joke, because that’s obviously what it was.

    Would you like to explain exactly why you thought that was the best thing to say?

    What exactly is your beef? That people are disgusted by Asimov’s documented behavior and attitudes? Certainly they deserve disgust. There is a good reason you saw people “groaning and throwing up on their shoes”: it’s because the letters that were unearthed betray a mindset that can only inspire revulsion.

  18. @Amphigorey: Yes, that’s what I was trying to report by using the word picture “groaning and throwing up on their shoes.”

    @Sasha Feather: Thanks for taking another cut at it, and what you’ve expressed is something I’m willing to give more thought to.

    @Dave Locke: My first thought was why did the guest curators post the Kemp/Asimov correspondence as part of the online exhibit? They, at least, should have been attuned to how that would reflect on Chicon in eyes of 2012 readers. I concluded they did so precisely because it made for a more historically accurate, warts-and-all exhibit. Stephanie Zvan’s post was painful to read because I could only agree with her critique of the warts.

  19. Dave, as already noted, you don’t know what a troll is. Also, I’ve been pretty passionate on the topic of harassment at conventions and conferences since at least May, when I led the charge to get them taken up in atheist and skeptic communities. That process is mostly complete now, by the way.

    Nice attempt to change the subject, though.

  20. “You don’t know what a troll is.”

    I’m making a final comment to one. If you search the Usenet from 1996 on my name and the word ‘troll’ you’ll find that I know a great deal about trolls. In four popular newsgroups I was the primary one who dealt with them. Of course, you don’t know me so automatically you’re speaking from ignorance.

    There’s no changing of any subject. You deal with too much of everything and anything promoting molehills into mountains by not grasping how the passage of time changes our culture, by not seeing that some guys are sexual jerks and some women run around with a perpetual case of the vapors (the women I know from decades of SF conventions are mostly much tougher and more adult than displayed by the Readercon incident), and by being an embarrassment to much of the non-troll Skeptic community.

    Have a nice life. Elsewhere, please.

  21. Okay, so you know what a troll is and you’re just dishonest about the comment thread? If you insist.

    And I have no doubt that the women who know you either come equipped with or acquire very thick skins indeed. No need to try to create a virtue out of a necessity, however.

  22. Sorry, but watching you attempt to string ideas together and defend yourself is like watching the relay race at the Special Olympics.

    I find watching events at the Paralympics inspiring, so I find it quite revealing–of less than sterling character, in case it’s not clear–that you would use such as an attempt at an insult.

  23. Fascinating. Leave it to Locke to maneuver people around until his points get proven by their own posts and usually they do not even notice it. I have seen him do this for decades and it almost always works and never fails to amaze me.

  24. At least fourteen unique groups and conferences implemented harassment policies thanks in no small part to Stephanie’s call to do so. She, myself and others have been under concerted troll attack for the better part of two years over the mere possibility of looking out for social justice causes in the atheist and skeptic communities, by people who think we’re all just “women with the vapors”.

    That Stephanie also happens to be part of the sci-fi fandom sphere but not a “big name” like yourselves does not make her a troll. It makes her an outside observer who’s witnessed identical problems in her primary communities and identical recalcitrant behaviour by people with “big names” and behavioural atavisms almost exactly identical to Dave Locke and Earl Kemp. And speaking truth to power, especially the people who claim “big names” shield them from such criticism but refuse to actually engage on the merits of the arguments presented in such criticism, happens to be an area in which Stephanie and others in our community have had a lot… A LOT… of experience.

    Asimov was absolutely correct to suspect it wouldn’t go over well even in 1962 where sexual harassment was so commonplace as is recorded in these letters, and women were expected to take their gropings with a smile. They would go over even less well now. If you think that women should just toughen up and take the harassment, that these women simply have “the vapors”, then the culture is indeed changing around you. Fighting the newcomers just because they’re young whippersnappers, as appears to be the case here, is not going to win you any converts from among the young whippersnapper crowd.

  25. > David Klaus, since you resorted to copypasta, I’ll add this everywhere I notice your comment:

    > Your concern for clarity is commendable. You might want to note that the same results can be achieved by reading carefully.

    Then why did you do the same just a couple of comments after mine above?

    Ms Svan, I didn’t “resort” to anything. I learned that to avoid confusion it was a good idea to quote the specific lines to which one was specifically commenting initially from fanzines ass far back as 1976, then later on BBS threads, and after that, on Usenet.

    I do read carefully, which is why I know what to copy in order to make my following comment(s) understandable.

    Please don’t spam where I have commented. Thank you.

  26. If we’ve done nothing else today, we’ve sure taught Isaac Asimov a lesson. I suppose the next thing we should do is burn his books and never speak his name again. Time makes an Untouchable or Unspeakable of us all, eventually.

  27. > David Klaus, since you resorted to copypasta, I’ll add this everywhere I notice your comment:

    > Your concern for clarity is commendable. You might want to note that the same results can be achieved by reading carefully.

    Then why did you do the same just a couple of comments after mine above?

    Ms Zvan, I didn’t “resort” to anything. I learned that to avoid confusion it was a good idea to quote the specific lines to which one was specifically commenting initially from fanzines as far back as 1976, then later on BBS threads, and after that, on Usenet.

    I do read carefully, which is why I know what to copy in order to make my following comment(s) understandable.

    Please don’t spam where I have commented. Thank you.

  28. @Jason: Leave it to a troll to translate “not seeing that some guys are sexual jerks and some women run around with a perpetual case of the vapors” as “people who think we’re all just ‘women with the vapors’”. Leave it to a troll to morph “topics which should be discussed rather than set on fire” to saying we’re against “social justice causes”. Leave it to a troll to toss up a false accusation that I and others “claim ‘big names’ when that hasn’t been claimed and all that I personally claim is that I’ve managed to hang around “sci-fi fandom” (your term) for 51 years. As Nietzsche once pointed out, “the most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.” Please respond to what I say, rather than what it is you wish I’d say so that you could feel like you were winning this troll-fest. This isn’t the first time someone has misconstrued my world through projecting his or her insecurities on it, and is unlikely to be the last, but as you’re now in my Bozo Bin it will be the last time with you. Be aware, you and too many others in this freethoughtblog started out on the right track but are guilty of what Bertrand Russell pointed out when he noted that “all movements go too far.”

  29. Wow, Dave. For someone who claims better reading comprehension skills than us “trolls”, you sure did grossly misinterpret my comment, which was largely a claim to my and Stephanie’s experience in similar matters, to mean something wildly different than what a plain reading of the comment actually said.

    I never said YOU were against social justice causes. I said we’ve been trolled by people for a very long term who refuse to accept our inclusion of those causes in our community. This was a claim to understand what trolling is, and what it is not.

    It is not, for instance, willfully misinterpreting things that people say just because they happen to be critical of your heroes. But you don’t seem to much care to actually discuss Kemp or Asimov’s behaviour here — you seem relatively entrenched in proving we’re simply here to troll, rather than to point out those heroes’ feet of clay. Only you’re not actually engaging in what we’re saying, simply assassinating characters left and right.

    Perhaps you could show how our arguments — that Kemp’s wistful sighing over days of yore when he and Asimov chuckled gaily over groping women at conventions is behaviour that should be curtailed — are “faulty arguments”. I’d welcome your actually engaging in the topic at hand instead of dismissiveness and self-congratulation over same.

    Bozo Bin indeed.

  30. Taral Wayne: I’d no sooner give up Newtonian physics over Isaac’s predilection toward astrology than I would Asimov’s fiction over his lecherous behaviour. One can decry the latter without binning the former.

  31. Dave, you’re still acting as though you don’t know what a troll is. So, first lesson: In order for someone to be trolling you, you must be having a discussion that can be derailed. “You go ‘way now”, is an impotent demand, not a discussion.

    Also, what happened to your flounce?

  32. @Taral Wayne:
    No one in this discussion has suggested burning any books – not even their own. Neither is this problem solely about Asimov. The problem is that people are still being sexually harassed – and sometimes assaulted – at conventions, and other people are still enabling it. If we can’t acknowledge how this culture came to be, how can we fix it?

    Suppose you’re hosting a Con – not in 1962, but right now. Suppose a guest of honor pinches a delegate, and the delegate complains to you. What do you do? Do you blame the perpetrator? Or do you blame the victim?

  33. Asimov did a brief stint as the author of THE SENSUOUS DIRTY OLD MAN, inclding an appearance on Dick Cavett, weearing a bra over his fsce to conceal his idenity. Didn’t wortk, as anyone could recognize that voice.

  34. What *do* you do about old people and their odd ideas? Especially if they’re your guest of honour? I’ve only seen Asimov in the flesh a couple of times and can’t gauge how far he took license with younger women of his fancy. (Although he did marry one.) That was back in the 1970s, when fandom was a much smaller place and I was a naive neo. Fandom would have seemed like an in-group to me, with all the rules and in-jokes well established to the initiates. If I ever saw the Not-So-Good Doctor pinch anybody’s ass, I would have thought they knew each other and it was permissible teasing. Now it is said that this was not so. I wonder if Asimov knew that? Being the expansive ego he was, and pretty famous at that, he may have believed everyone was familiar with his shtick and tacitly approved. Ironically, the young man revealed by Asimov’s autobiographies was shy and inexperienced with women until well into his 20s, and the Dirty Old Man probably didn’t emerge until his 30s. His initial naivite may in fact have contributed to the later roue — if roue he really ways. I can imagine an enormous sense of liberation once Asimov discovered he could let his libedo fly freely. But, that’s neither here nor there. What I see is a man long dead, with a reputation as a writer that will stand regardless of whatever misbehavior he is accused of. It seems that Asimov’s behavior at conventions may have gone beyond playful teasing with fans (of the female persuasion) who he may have falsely believed expected it of him. This is new to me. There doesn’t seem much that can be done about it at this point, either, except to be truthful about the man’s memory … good and bad.

  35. @Taral – What do you do about old people and their old ways? You call them on their shit. Being old isn’t an excuse to be an asshole.

    Poor David Locke wants us to be impressed that he was on Usenet in 1996. I’ve been on the WELL since 1995, but unlike David, I don’t trumpet that as a signifier of my Greater Internet Knowledge, because unlike David, I know it doesn’t mean anything. David, the internet is bigger than it was in 1996. Do keep up.

  36. Someone hiding behind the name Anthill Inside wrote: “suppose you’re hosting a Con – not in 1962, but right now. Suppose a guest of honor pinches a delegate, and the delegate complains to you.”

    Delegate? SF conventions don’t have delegates. It’s pretty clear you’ve never been to an SF convention.

  37. Sure conventions have delegates. Did you forget the TAFF/DUFF delegates?

    If you’re unwilling to address his question (pronoun chosen on the basis of the verification emails we exchanged) then don’t. Trying to assert that you are exempt from answering it because you don’t like his jargon is simply a red herring.

  38. Anphigory, Asimov isn’t “old,” he’s dead. Gone for 20 years or more… If he were alive, this would all be less of a problem. A friend could take him aside and say, “Isaac, that stuff is getting tiresome. It wasn’t very funny in 1973 and it’s the 21st. century now. You’re smart enough to clean up your act.” But since Asimov is dead, we can cut him a new a-hole from now to eternity and it won’t change a thing. All there is is how we frame the record.

  39. Without diving into the fannish battle, I’d like to observe that one the real problems in the dynamic between men and women is that men genuinely cannot relate to how unwanted sexual attention feels – because, in general, there is no such thing as “unwanted sexual attention” for men. This can be qualified by sexual orientation (a straight man can relate when the attention is coming from a gay man who is bigger and stronger) but we’ve all seen this.

    We respond with outrage (appropriately) when we hear about a male teacher harassing/fondling students but when the teacher is a good-looking female and the student is a male teen, there’s frequently a response of “lucky boy!”

    As much as modern thinking wants to deny inherent differences between the sexes, there really is a difference between normative male sexuality and normative female sexuality.

    Woman in elevator with unknown male who pinches her ass, we’re generally outraged. Woman in elevator with Big Name (SF writer, rock star, movie star, whatever) who pinches her ass and we tend to cut them a certain amount of slack, like somehow achieving “Big Name” status gives them a moral pass (consider the many times the police came out to OJ Simpson’s house on domestic violence calls and gave verbal warnings instead of removing him from the house) – FAME is the distorting factor.

    But leave all that aside– when women ask men to be compassionate or relate to our position, we fail. Because straight men think of the corresponding and it’s actually a fantasy: alone in an elevator with Big Name female and she grabs my butt–! It either becomes a great flattering story or maybe the opening for a sexual romp.

    Without the threat of greater size/strength and corresponding lack of desire for said attention, men cannot relate. Make it a gay bouncer with greater strength grabbing the man’s butt – THEN the penny drops and a straight man is able to go, “ah– I get it.”

    Women by and large do not have the same desire or capacity for anonymous or random sex – so asking men to be compassionate and stop doing the very thing they think would be cool is just not an effective way to communicate about the issue.

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