Detcon1 Day Two

John Scalzi, Jim Hines, Steve Silver, Roger Sims, and Nicki Lynch at Detcon1. Photo by Rich Lynch.

John Scalzi, Jim Hines, Steven H Silver, Roger Sims, and Nicki Lynch at Detcon1. Photo by Rich Lynch.

Friday’s Detcon1 program item “Fanzines and Professional Writing” found Jim C. Hines, John Scalzi, Nicki Lynch, Roger Sims, and moderator Steven H Silver seeking the 21st century’s answer to a question raised at Detention, the 1959 Worldcon in Detroit (which Sims co-chaired):

At Detention a discussion by the editors of amateur magazines was sparked by Ed Wood asking, “Why weren’t fanzines as good as they once were and why were their writers no longer becoming top quality pros very often?” The panel lasted from about 11 p.m. Sunday until 4:30 a.m. What is the state of fanzines today? How have digital formats affected fanzines? What role do they have now in the career of a professional writer, especially compared to 50 years ago?

Rich Lynch and his camera captured the moment.

The Invisible Fanwriter Hugo

The Hugo nominating deadline is March 31. And I was wondering if, on Easter weekend when the Best Fan Writer nominees are announced, there will be the usual cuckoo in the robin’s nest – an established pro novelist?

Over the past few years the category has been won by pro writers John Scalzi, Frederik Pohl, Jim C. Hines, and Tansy Rayner Roberts, with actual fans Cheryl Morgan and Claire Brialey breaking through, too.

Every time I approach this subject lots of you write to say, “Oh no, Mike, you’re crazy — pros can be fans too!”

This is such a very important ideological axiom – to fans. Those eager to win the argument that “pros can be fans too!” never seem to recognize that it isn’t fans who are stopping this from happening, rather, that they are trying to force a kind of egalitarianism on writers that never really takes, however interested or polite the writers may be while the award is on the table.

Because once everyone’s done marching around waving their hands as confetti falls from the rafters and the brass band blows like mad and the world has once again been made safe for fannish egalitarianism, nobody pays attention to the implicit message we get back from the pros that people were so hot to give a fan Hugo —

People who are building careers as writers do not want to identify their brands with anything that hints of the amateur.

And the Fan Writer Hugo that was a big deal for six months gets swept under the rug.

You look at their bios and here’s what you find.

The “Brief biography of John Scalzi” on Whatever has this to say about his awards:

Bibliography: It’s here. New York Times best seller in fiction. Awards won include the Hugo, the Locus, the Seiun and Kurd Lasswitz. Works translated into 20 languages.

Where is it?

The late Frederik Pohl had two online bios, one at his official website and the other on his blog, and neither acknowledges the Best Fan Writer Hugo. The pro site speaks generally of winning the Hugo “six times; he was the only person ever to have won the Hugo both as writer and as editor….” The blog says of his awards: “He has received six Hugos, three Nebulas and forty or fifty other awards, some of which he has given himself.”

Six Hugos. Did you know Pohl, in fact, won seven Hugos? The seventh was his Best Fan Writer Hugo.

Now at the time he was nominated Pohl was gracious about it, clearly understood the honor he was being paid, said “I couldn’t be more pleased,” and was unquestionably qualified to compete in the category. I still thought his response was pretty much along the lines of “if you insist” – rather like Robert Silverberg’s attitude toward winning the 1950 Retro Hugo for Best Fan Writer.

Silverberg also doesn’t list his Retro Hugo on his official page, but that comes as no surprise if you remember what he wrote to File 770 the time I left him off a list —

I take umbrage at your omitting Me from your list of winners of the Best Fan Writer Hugo who have also sold pro fiction. May I remind you that I was the (totally undeserved) winner of the 1950 Retro-Hugo in that category, beating out such people as [Walt] Willis and [Bob] Tucker? Of course I would not have won the award if I hadn’t had a few stories published professionally along the way.  But I did get the Hugo.

That’s the thing. A Best Fan Writer Hugo added nothing to the career Pohl already had, and made Silverberg feel fans must be completely clueless about what he truly values.

Then, last year’s winner, Tansy Rayner Roberts, has a lengthy bio on her website that mentions three awards won by her fiction but is silent about her Best Fan Writer Hugo. The site’s landing page does call out her involvement in “the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast.” Not said is that the nomination is in the Best Fancast category.

Surprisingly, Jim C. Hines bucks the trend. His bio says right in front of God and everybody

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012.

Respect to you, Jim.

Invisible little men are one of science fiction’s motifs. Invisible Best Fan Writers we can do without. Let’s do something revolutionary in 2014 – vote the award to a fan.

Loncon 3’s Hugo MC Withdraws

I live in the Pacific time zone so I slept through most of his reign, but British TV celebrity Jonathan Ross was Loncon 3’s Hugo Awards Master of Ceremonies for about 7 hours today.

He’s not anymore.

After he was publicly announced one of Loncon 3’s division heads resigned, the internet caught on fire, and Ross abruptly withdrew as host.

Just another day in the Hugo/smof/gender/SFWA continuum.

One of the UK’s biggest names, Ross has 3.6 million Twitter followers and until 2010 was the highest paid television personality in Britain, raking in £6 million per year.

He also has a long record of controversy for his on-air shots at women, including Heather Mills and Gwyneth Paltrow. His phone prank on actor Andrew Sachs, featuring tasteless comments about Sachs’ grand-daughter, led to a 12-week suspension by the BBC.

Ross’ connection to the sf genre? He’s been a comics writer and video game developer. Loncon 3’s press release called him “a champion of science fiction and fantasy in all its forms throughout his career, and is one of the genre’s most vocal enthusiasts.” Ross is married to Hugo winner Jane Goldman, co-author of the screenplay for 2008 Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) award recipient Stardust.

How Loncon 3 co-chairs Steve Cooper and Alice Lawson linked up with Ross wasn’t explained in the press release. Nearly all past Worldcon toastmasters and Hugo MCs have been drawn from the ranks of pro writers with a history of attending Worldcons. On the other hand, Seth MacFarlane and David Letterman have never offered to MC an American Worldcon — fans on this side of the Atlantic might prove just as susceptible to shiny things.

Loncon 3 Exhibits Division head Farah Mendlesohn wrote on her LiveJournal  (in a post since taken private) that she spent all week arguing with co-chairs Steven Cooper and Alice Lawson against Ross’ selection because of his “public abuse of women.” The chairs made it clear this was not something for the committee to decide. Therefore on February 28 she resigned as division head so she could continue to criticize the decision. (For complex reasons she still intends to work as Project Manager for the Exhibit Hall.)

In her resignation, Mendlesohn pointed to Loncon 3’s own anti-harassment policy, saying “It is my firm belief that a person who has publicly harassed, humiliated and expressed prejudice to a wide range of groups in public and live media spaces, including award shows, is not a fit person to take the role of host of the Hugo Awards.”

I’m disappointed that the chairs apparently tried to marginalize instead of acting on Mendlesohn’s criticism. I happen to agree with her. Even a Worldcon chair hypnotized by the idea of putting a shiny international celebrity onstage to host the Hugo ceremony ought to have enough of a survival instinct to understand that when anyone as respected as Mendlesohn says you’re about to step on a landmine – that the division in the sf community will cost a lot more than whatever benefit there is in the celebrity MC.

Seanan McGuire responded to Ross’ selection by loosing a volley of enraged tweets (promptly Storified by that master of disaster, Jim C. Hines) — disbelieving her offer to MC had been turned down in favor of an outsider with his history, and riding an emotional roller-coaster because she could easily visualize Ross cracking fat jokes if she went up to accept another Hugo.

Unlike McGuire I’m at no risk of winning in 2014, but I’d be sensitive to that idea myself.

Charles Stross’ less personalized reason for rejecting Jonathan Ross was that – however he acquired it — Ross has a lot of baggage and would attract the wrong kind of coverage to the Worldcon.

The problem I see is that while fandom is in the process of cleaning house, inviting him — or anyone with a controversial media profile — to be Hugo toastmaster is like rolling out a welcome mat at the Worldcon front door that says “muck-rakers welcome”. There’s a lot of muck to be raked, even before we get into Daily Mail photographers stalking cosplayers: just look at the recent SFWA fracas (plural), the Jim Frenkel/harassment scandal at Tor, and so on.

Worldcon should be safe space for fans, and inviting a high profile media personality who has been targeted by the tabloids is going to cause collateral damage, even if nothing happens, simply by making many fans feel less safe.

So the position of 2014 Hugo Ceremony MC is vacant for the time being. Before Ross withdrew I considered there to be one silver lining in his selection – it meant I wouldn’t have to watch Paul Cornell again. Now that Loncon 3 needs a replacement we may be in for another round of Russian Roulette where he’s concerned.

[Loncon 3’s original press release follows the jump.]

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A Firebell in the Night

Mary Robinette Kowal has posted “My Very Complicated Reaction to Issue 202 of the Bulletin”:

So, yeah, the fact that Malzberg and Resnick’s column can take all of the good work like that and GriefCom, and the Emergency Medical Fund, and contract reviews, and, and, and… and just eradicate it infuriates me. That fact that it makes all of SFWA seem unwelcoming and misogynist makes me do the whole gnashing teeth thing.  I was heartened by the official SFWA Presidential apology for the issue. I’m glad that there’s a taskforce that’s going to do the Bulletin overhaul that needed to happen.

I just wish that we hadn’t driven people away to get there.

The primary “complication” is Kowal’s belief in the good intentions of the SFWA Bulletin editor Jean Rabe.

I haven’t located a comment by Rabe herself, but Kowal and some others have speculated based on the articles she’s been running that she may have felt the solution was to seek balancing material (such as the Hines article in the current issue).

And speaking of Jim C. Hines, if you’re interested in links to a few dozen more heated blog posts on this subject, here is his list.

One Resignation, Many Ripples

“SFWA has a fanzine, too,” I’ve heard pros joke, meaning the SFWA Bulletin. Since I’m not a member I don’t see it, and ordinarily never think about it unless an issue contains something controversial about fandom, for example, Gene Wolfe’s complaint about the financial support he received as GoH of the 1985 Worldcon, or the dialog – by Resnick and Malzberg, come to think of it – saying the Worldcon will keep deteriorating unless it becomes more like Dragon*Con.

These days the SFWA Bulletin has even more in common with fanzines. While most writers and organizations have moved to various internet formats, the Bulletin persists as a quarterly magazine.

Just how long that will continue suddenly seems in question.

Consecutive issues have been criticized by a number of members who found some contents sexist  – a Resnick/Malzberg dialog about “lady editors” in #199, a babe in a chainmail bikini on the cover of #200, an article suggesting Barbie as a role model for women writers in #201, and most explosive of all, the new Resnick/Malzberg dialog in #202 counterattacking critics of the earlier piece (see screen shots at Radish Reviews, pages 1, 2. 3, 4, 5, 6.)

Resnick, “The next question is: is this an overreaction to attempted censorship? The answer is simple and straightforward: I don’t think it’s possible to overreact to thought control, whether Politically Inept or Politically Motivated or merely displaying the would-be controllers personal tastes and biases.”

Although Jim C. Hines’s essay “Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People” is in the new issue, too, and Jason Sanford says it implicitly rebuts the type of arguments offered by Resnick/Malzberg, the controversy has moved rapidly beyond Sanford’s characterization as an exchange of broadsides in the free marketplace of ideas.

Om May 31, E. Catherine Tobler publicly resigned her membership, explaining in Dear SFWA

In all the complaints that were voiced, there was never a call for censorship. There was never a call for suppression. There was a call for respect.

There arose the notion that women are people too; that, in a piece focusing on editors, one might speak of editing ability, of anthologies and magazines assembled, and not how one looked in a bathing suit. Surely such content didn’t belong in a piece about editors? Were these such radical thoughts? What year is it?

There arose the notion that SFWA might consider its membership—its whole membership—when assembling an issue of the Bulletin. That SFWA might take in to mind that perhaps a good portion of its membership would be offended and insulted by content that tells them to keep their quiet dignity as a woman should.

She finishes:

I am leaving you because your publication and certain members have made me feel unwanted and unwelcome more than once. I have grown uncomfortable speaking my mind in the forum because based on prior incidents, someone may likely tell me I’m being silly for feeling the way I do.

Kameron Hurley immediately followed Tobler’s announcement with Dear SFWA Writers: Let’s Talk About Censorship and Bullying, which addresses Resnick and Malzberg:

So. I get it. The world used to agree with you. You used to be able to say things like, “I really like those lady writers in this industry, especially in swimsuits!” and your fellow writers, editors, agents, and other assorted colleagues would all wink and grin and agree with you, and Asimov would go around pinching women’s asses, and it was so cool! So cool that he could just sexually assault women all the time!

Her full discussion concludes with this advice:

Listen. Do better. Understand privilege and power. Understand why people didn’t speak up before. Why you didn’t hear it before. If you hit somebody, and you really didn’t mean to would you say, “Well, it’s your fault for having tits?” or would you say “I’m so sorry I hit you. That wasn’t my intention. I will actively work to not hit you in the future.”

I know what somebody who was genuinely interested in open, honest, respectful dialogue with people they considered humans and colleagues would do.

Samantha Henderson also set the critcism apart from censorship, putting the latter in a real-world context:

Women of my generation aren’t supposed to be rude to men of your generation; we’re supposed to be reasonable, understanding and respectful of all points of view, even those that seek to belittle us. And I hear you’re lovely people, supportive of women writers, great conversationalists, salt of the earth, and I’m sure in many ways that’s true.

Screw that anyway. I’m too tired to see your non-stop use of the term “lady;” lady writers, editors, publishers as anything but condescending, however gentlemanly it’s meant (and in #202, it’s so constant I can’t but suspect you’re intentionally trying to get a rise out of your soi-disant anons). I’m too tired to be anything but offended at your claiming that those who have the audacity to criticize you are trying to censor you, in a world where censorship means a girl getting shot in the head for daring to become educated, or a country trying to wipe all records and knowledge of an atrocity.

After the Barbie article came out, Carrie Cuinn said (in addition to its other failings) the piece was antithetical to the purposes of a professional writers’ organization:

The worst part, worse than the stupid, offensive comments about women, is the fact that this article is supposed to be about being successful as a writer. It lists suggestions for improving your career. The SFWA, a professional organization of writers, included this in its official literature. It wants us, as writers, to read this and learn from it.

The SFWA, our writers’s union, our leadership and our guides, want us to know that women should be quiet, nice, and happy, in order to be successful, because otherwise we’re imperfect, unhappy, whores. How can I laugh that off? How can I read that and not stand up?

And now, Chris Gerwel (in The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation) adds that there are implications of giving SFWA’s platform over to any given set of views:

Like it or not, the SFWA Bulletin is an official trade publication published by an organization representing science fiction and fantasy writers. It is one of that organization’s public voices. The words and images it contains matter. They send a message to current members, they send a message to potential members, and they send a message to future generations of writers about the values and priorities of our field.

What next?

Outgoing SFWA President John Scalzi has taken responsibility for the publication, and the organization has announced a SFWA Bulletin Task Force

The board is aware of a number of complaints by members regarding Bulletin issue #202, specifically the article by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. We welcome this criticism and thank our members for making their voices heard. Further feedback is welcome on our online discussion boards, or else can be mailed to either Rachel Swirsky or John Scalzi.

In response to this and previous feedback from members about recent issues of the Bulletin, I have authorized the formation of a task force to look at the Bulletin and to determine how the publication needs to proceed from this point in order to be a valuable and useful part of the SFWA member experience. This task force consists of SFWA’s current vice president and incoming president, as well as related SFWA administrative staff, and experienced editorial consultants. The task force is: Rachel Swirsky, Steven Gould, Jaym Gates, Kate Baker, James Patrick Kelly, Charles Coleman Finlay, and Neil Clarke.

Hines Marches On

Novelist Jim C. Hines has been a Best Fan Writer nominee for about three weeks now. He says it’s been a learning experience. And what has he learned? According to “Hugo Lessons Thus Far” some has to do with underwear, with fashion preferences, and with cupcakes. There is also one genuine pearl of wisdom: 

Do not read people’s blog posts about the Hugo ballot…

  • Blogger A said they were happy to see me on the Fan Writer list and would probably vote for me. OMGYAY SOMEONE’S GOING TO VOTE FOR ME I’M TOTALLY GOING TO WIN!!!
  • Blogger B said they were going to vote for someone else, and asked why a professional writer was on the Fan Writer list. AW CRAP I’M SO GOING TO LOSE AND EVERYONE WILL HATE ME FOREVER!!!

 Yeah. I think it’s best if I just stop reading those posts…

Agreed, that way lies the path of true joy. However, as Anthony Trollope wrote in Phineas Finn, “But who is there that abstains from reading that which is printed in abuse of himself?”

Much as I’ve enjoyed Hines’ blog – see Why Princesses Need Chiropractors  — I’m basically in Blogger B’s camp. Yet what should I say? I wasn’t much of a factor when I tried to keep John Scalzi and Fred Pohl from winning the Best Fan Writer Hugo. Based on that performance, Hines probably ought to hire me to campaign against him then get on with writing his acceptance speech.

What if this time I endorse the pro? Reverse psychology! After all, most of my picks for the FAAn Awards ended floating face-down at the bottom of the poll. I possess the kiss of death! Yes, I think that would be the biggest threat of all.

Why Princesses Need Chiropractors

Jim Hines used humor effectively to make a point about book cover art in a post where he photographed himself imitating the poses of female characters on fantasy book covers, with notes on how difficult or painful he found each one.

Hines argues that paintings showing women in physically unrealistic stances are less effective at marketing stories:

My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.

Rose Fox of Genreville found his ideas persuasive enough to recommend extending Hines’ argument to a rule:

It’s easy to think that because men look absurd in “women’s poses”, women would look absurd in “men’s poses”. Instead, these comparisons make it clear that there are absurd poses and reasonable poses, and we need to ditch the absurd ones altogether and use the reasonable ones for everyone.

The examples Hines analyzes are pretty mild – none of that 1930s brass brassiere stuff, just some women wielding swords and some others in confident poses. And nobody’s objecting to putting images of women on book covers per se, although I sense a tension between Hines’ avowed focus on marketing, and Fox’s call for a new orthodoxy requiring all cover poses to be “reasonable,” which seems to have a different political center of gravity.  

Hines’ choices to advance his case inventively, and to write in a lightly mocking tone, are more helpful in luring an audience. While he delivers more than one layer of meaning, if his goal is to change an artist’s future work it may suffice to plant the simple idea that unrealistic poses make bad art.

Of course, Hines will be up against art history, which teaches that it’s not true that unrealistic poses make for bad art. Sometimes they make for highly-regarded art. Consider two examples, one by the French sculptor Rodin, the other by an unknown Olmec artist:

Bacchus in the Vat by Rodin

Acrobat by an Olmec sculptor

Is Hines’ primary concern whether artwork helps sell books? Then military realism does not trump everything else. Anything that makes commercial art successful cannot be indicted out of hand. Physically demanding, acrobatic poses may be eyecatching for their implicit difficulty, or for their resonance with famous images in the reader’s experience. If the cover engages a prospective buyer’s attention, hasn’t it done its work?

Postscript 1: One of Hines’ targets is the artwork on the cover of John Ringo’s Queen of Wands. Upon seeing this, my first question wasn’t whether the pose was physically awkward, but why a book named after a Tarot card features art more appropriate to the Two of Swords? Why doesn’t that undermine the cover’s effectiveness as a marketing tool? Because as little as I know about Tarot, most people know even less? Thus I am forced to raise the question of whether complaints from people with specialized knowledge – like whether a particular stance is good for swordfighting — come from such a trivial slice of the audience that they have no effect on sales at all?

Postscript 2: If military realism really does trump everything else – wasn’t the most realistic use of the sword in combat illustrated in the first Indiana Jones movie? That is, don’t bring a knife to a gun fight? Ergo, there should never be a blade on a book cover.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]