I Had A Lovely Visit This Morning

By John King Tarpinian: I am lucky enough to be able to visit Ray on his birthdays, always leaving him a gift or two.  The cake had to be quickly removed because there were ants that appeared to be interested in the cake.  And no, I did not eat the cake but gave it to the mortuary staff as a thank you for taking care of Ray.

I left a Clark bar (Ray’s favorite), brass horse (representing his first book, Dark Carnival), & the polished coprolite (dinosaur poop) in honor of The Sound of Thunder.  Oh yes, I used a box of Dark Carnival matches to light the candles.

After visiting Ray I always go over to pay my respects to others who had influences in Ray’s life.  Truman Capote, who was partly responsible for Ray getting his first story published in a mainstream publication, the October 1946 issue of Colliers Magazine, “The Homecoming.” 

Also going over to Hugh Hefner, who as a young publisher, serialized Fahrenheit 451 in March/April/May 1954, in Playboy.

Of course, I also visit someone who I tease as being Ray’s chauffeur, Robert Bloch.

It is a pilgrimage I both enjoy making but wish I’d rather be going to Comic-Con or simply having lunch with Ray.

Dyer-Bennet Creates Words Over Windows Photo Book

By David Dyer-Bennet: I’ve committed art. Documentary art, in the form of a book and a website (plus I will be offering prints of some of the photos for sale).

I got caught by the fascinating things people were writing and painting on the panels put up to protect windows here in Minneapolis, when things kind of came apart after George Floyd was killed. And by the layering and juxtapositions, and the broad range of views being expressed.

The website and book are live, you can see what I’ve done at Words Over Windows. (The book is an Amazon print-on-demand production, but the proofs look quite good. There’s also an ebook, which would look great on a good tablet.)

The specific Uncle Hugo’s photos are here, here, and here.

There are also some Dreamhaven photos: here, here, here, here, and here.

100 Years

By Steve Vertlieb: As I remember what would have been his 100th birthday on August 22nd, my memories drift back to a time not that long ago when I was proud to think of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century as my treasured pal.

Here is my affectionate tribute to cherished friend Ray Bradbury, whose loving presence occupied my world and my heart for nearly four decades. Ray was one of the most distinguished writers of the twentieth century and, with H.G. Wells, perhaps …the most influential, legendary science fiction writer of the past one hundred years.

More importantly, however, Ray was a gentle little boy whose love of imagination, fantasy, and stories of other worlds influenced thousands of writers and millions of admirers all over the world. His monumental presence upon this planet warmed and inspired all who knew him, and I was honored to call him my friend for thirty-eight years.

Here, once more, you’re invited to read my loving remembrance of the life and world of Ray Bradbury, “I SING BRADBURY ELECTRIC” at the American Music Preservation site.

Our historic first meeting with the immortal Ray Bradbury in his West Los Angeles living room during the joyous Summer of 1974.

Steve and Erwin Vertlieb with Ray Bradbury in 1974.

When I was preparing for major open heart surgery in March, 2010, I received an e-mail from Ray’s daughter, Alexandra (Zee). She wrote “My Dad told me to tell you that “you’re not allowed to die.”

I took Mr. Bradbury at his word, and didn’t. Who was I, after all, to argue with Ray Bradbury?

Sharing a few special moments with cherished pal Ray Bradbury at Forry Ackerman’s spectacular 1993 “Famous Monsters” reunion celebration in Crystal City, Virginia.

A cheery note from pal Ray Bradbury concerning my appearance in the Conor Timmis documentary, Kreating Karloff, wishing “you guys and mummies” an enthusiastic “Bravo.”

Bradbury Centennial Weekend
Is Here at Last

Get ready for Ray Bradbury’s hundred candle blowout on Saturday!

(1) FIRED UP FOR THE READ-A-THON. The “First Annual Ray Bradbury Read-A-Thon” is a national reading of Fahrenheit 451 that begins at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on August 22, 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s birth. View the entire reading on: RayBradburyReadAThon.com

Readers young and old from across the nation will gather by their TV sets, computers, tablets, and phones to watch a historic reading of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 streamed over YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The Library of Congress, the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, along with other public and university libraries nationwide have joined together to bring Bradbury’s classic novel to today’s audiences.

Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, will introduce each of the three parts of Bradbury’s book, while John Szabo (Los Angeles Public Library), Rachel Bloom (actress), Charles F. Bolden Jr. (12th NASA Administrator), and Ann Druyan (writer/producer/director) will offer additional introductions.

Readers from across the United States will join William Shatner (actor), Neil Gaiman (author), Marlon James (author), Marjorie Liu (author), P. Djèlí Clark (author), Dr. Brenda Greene (author), Alley Mills Bean (actress), James Reynolds (actor), Tananarive Due (author), and Steven Barnes (author) to bring this relevant work to social media. Susan Orlean (author) provides an afterword. 

(2) SEE RAY’S TYPEWRITER. The American Writers Museum in Chicago will admit visitors free on Bradbury’s 100th birthday.

The American Writers Museum (AWM) welcomed visitors back one month ago with new safety measures including providing gloves and styluses to promote safe interaction with museum exhibits. On Saturday, August 22, the AWM will open its doors for free to mark the Centennial of Ray Bradbury’s birth, giving visitors a chance to get an up-close look at Bradbury’s typewriter that is on display in the Tools of the Trade exhibit and learn more about the upcoming exhibit Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable, set to open in early 2021. 

(3) MARTIAN TAPESTRY. The Los Angeles Public Library kicked off the week with this brief biography — “A Week to Remember: Ray Bradbury”.

…Bradbury was trying to get the second volume of stories published in 1949, but every publisher he approached told him they were looking for novels. He met at Doubleday with editor Walter Bradbury (no relation), who asked if his existing stories about the first human colony on Mars could be tied together into a novel; Walter even suggested a name: The Martian Chronicles. Ray wrote an outline for the connective material overnight, and Walter bought what was now a novel the next day.

The novel was a great success, in part because of another lucky accident. Bradbury happened to meet Christopher Isherwood in a bookstore shortly after the book was published. He gave Isherwood a copy, and Isherwood’s glowing review of The Martian Chronicles helped bring the book to the attention of readers who might otherwise have ignored it. The book was so popular that Broadway composers Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wanted to turn it into a musical. Bradbury declined, but did approve an operatic version several decades later.

(4) MASKED MAN. In the town where Ray was born – Waukegan, IL – the Ray Bradbury Experiene Museum is celebrating.

They’re raising money, too, with RBEM logo masks.

(5) WAUKEGAN ACQUIRES CARNEGIE LIBRARY. And the officials of the City of Waukegan have a few things lined up: “Ray Bradbury Centennial”. For example, they announced on August 13 –

In partnership with the Waukegan Historical Society, the Waukegan Park District is excited to announce that it has officially acquired the historic Carnegie Library from the City of Waukegan. The Carnegie Library, located at 1 N. Sheridan Road, was made famous by Ray Bradbury in a variety of stories, possibly most especially in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Designated as a Waukegan Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Carnegie Library will become the new site for the Waukegan Historical Society’s expanded history programming, archives, collections, exhibits, and research library. The building will also be used by the Waukegan Park District for programs, classes, events, and registrations.

(6) SEEING RED. John Grant, geologist at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, reflects on Bradbury’s impact on his career studying Mars: “Gaining Inspiration from The Martian Chronicles.

That I am a Martian is thanks in no small part to Ray Bradbury. As a child growing up in northern NY, I spent many nights reading and rereading his books. From Fahrenheit 451 to Something Wicked This Way Comes to The Illustrated Man and everything in between. But it was the Martian Chronicles that really captured my attention. After reading it multiple times, I’d play outside and imagine ancient Martian civilizations living on a drying Red Planet long before humans appeared on the Earth. 

This all happened at about the same time I was eagerly waiting for first the Mariner 9 and then Viking missions to reach Mars. Although prior missions had flown by the planet, these missions were the first to go into orbit and, in the case of Viking, successfully land on the surface of Mars. When Mariner 9 arrived at Mars, a global dust storm was largely obscuring the surface from view. As the dust slowly cleared and Mars was unveiled, a diverse landscape was revealed that included not only impact craters, but also giant volcanoes, ice caps, and even ancient water-carved channels. The Viking orbiters followed this up with even better and broader resolution images of surface features and the Viking landers revealed a landscape that to me looked somewhat similar to deserts on the Earth, sans vegetation of course. 

(7) RAY’S OLD HOME BY THE BEACH. The Friends of Venice (CA) Library are “Celebrating Bradbury’s 100th Birthday” online – register at the link. This year’s annual meeting will honor Ray Bradbury’s Centennial with a showing of the classic Twilight Zone episode “I Sing the Body Electric,” written by Bradbury. In addition, a visit by the LA Book Bike, and a joint display with the Venice Heritage Foundation will focus on Bradbury’s life in Venice.

Venice news outlet The Argonaut explores his local roots in “Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury!”

…Many may not be aware that Bradbury’s life as a writer began in Venice. In 1942, he moved to a small house at 670 Venice Boulevard where he sat in a one-car garage and wrote short stories like “The Lake” and “The Wind” as well as the famed “Martian Chronicles.” From “The Fog Horn” inspired by the shattered remains of the Venice Pier roller coaster to the decaying Venice Canals that set the scene for “Death Is a Lonely Business,” Venice had a large influence on the stories he told.

(8) RAY’S FAMILY TREE. An article in Spanish at El Universal’s Confablario“Ray Bradbury, el hijo de Julio Verne” – “hijo” means “son” so you can figure out that part easily enough. It starts out quoting Ray’s whole family tree —

En su prólogo a S is for Space Ray Douglas Bradbury escribió lo siguiente: “Julio Verne fue mi padre. H. G.Wells fue mi tío sabio. Edgar Allan Poe era el primo con alas de murciélago que guardábamos en lo alto del desván. Flash Gordon y Buck Rogers fueron mis hermanos y amigos. Ahí tienen mi linaje. Añadiendo, por supuesto, el hecho de que muy probablemente, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, la autora de Frankenstein, era mi madre”.

(9) HERE’S A HEAD START ON THE BRADBURY READING. In 2018, LeVar Burton Reads gave fans “’The Great Wide World Over There’ by Ray Bradbury”.

A visitor’s arrival delivers both wonder and heartache to a rural community. This story appears in Ray Bradbury’s collection THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN. 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories.]

Silver: The Novels I Didn’t Write

By Steven H Silver:

“There are no correct alternate histories; there are only plausible alternate histories.”

—Will Shetterly

After Hastings is an alternate history that branches off from one of the most pivotal moments of English history, the Norman Conquest of England. Although practically the entire novel takes place after our histories diverged, the point of divergence is chronicled in the first paragraph of the novel, although it is a little subtle and some readers may not realize it is there.

The novel opens with a quotation from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a series of short historical notes that were maintained in a variety of monasteries from the eighth century through 1154. Different version of the Chronicle record different events and different viewpoints, but they tend to agree on the major items. The entry for 1066 reads, in part:

Then came William, eorl of Normandy, into Pevensey on Michaelmas eve, and as soon as they were prepared, they built a stronghold at the town of Hastings. This was made known to king Harold; he gathered a great army and came against them at the ancient apple tree. William came upon them unawares, before they had gathered; the king, nevertheless, fought very hard against with those men who would stay with him, and there were many killed on both sides. There king Harold was killed, eorl Leofwine his brother and eorl Gyrth his brother, and many good men. (translation by Anne Savage, 1983).

The excerpt from Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with which I open the novel reads:

Then came William, eorl of Normandy, into Pevensey on Michaelmas eve, and as soon as they were prepared, they built a stronghold at the town of Hastings. This was made known to king Harold; he gathered a great army and came against them at the ancient apple tree. William came upon them unawares, before they had gathered; the king, nevertheless, fought very hard against with those men who would stay with him, and there were many killed on both sides. The king put the invaders to rout, slaying many thousands of Franks. Eorl William’s Bretons turned against their master and helped the king when they saw the battle turn. Although eorl William escaped the field, he was sorely defeated and many of his men lay now in six feet of English arable.

The divergence occurs immediately after the note that many were killed on both sides. The difference is what is known, or believed to be known, to have happened on the battle field. In our timeline, the Normans began a disorganized retreat from the battlefield with rumors swirling that William had been killed. William is said to have removed his helmet and when his men saw his red hair, they rallied to his cause. More importantly, the Breton mercenaries he had brought over with him rallied and the English were defeated.

In the world of After Hastings, when the Norman troops broke, William was not able to regain control over them. The Bretons realized that the side that hired them was a lost cause and turned against them with the expectation that they would be rewarded by the victorious side, Harold’s, once the battle was over and his throne was secure.

A successful Norman Conquest cemented England as part of Western Europe and breaking its long-term connection to Scandinavia. It is so important that W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeats entitled their satirical history of England 1066 and All That, noting that it was one of only two dates that students of history actually needed to know (the other being 55BC). It is surprising, then, that so few alternate histories have been written about a Norman Conquest that didn’t happen.

In addition to my 2020 novel After Hastings, Franklin Hamilton wrote “What If–?” In 1964, Cecelia Holland wrote the counterfactual essay “Repulse at Hastings, October 14, 1066” in 2002, and John Gribbon wrote the time-travel novel Timeswitch in 2009. All of us have different ideas about what would have happened had the Norman Conquest failed. In addition, all of us have the Norman Conquest failing in different ways.

The story I chose to tell after William’s failure begins a few months later, on January 5, 1067 and runs for exactly two years. But it is in no way the only story I could have told, even using that same moment of defeat on the battlefield of Hastings.

In the aftermath of William’s defeat, I could have focused on Harold’s tightening of ties with the Kingdom of Norway, now ruled over by Olaf III, whose father had been killed by Harold at Stamford Bridge about three weeks before the Battle of Hastings. Conversely, Olaf could have sworn vengeance against Harold and England for the death of his father and planned yet another invasion of England. Both of these could be plausibly related.

Although I allowed William to live after the Battle of Hastings, he could just as plausibly have died, leaving his duchy to his eldest son, Robert II, who actually did eventually succeed him in Normandy, if not in England. In 1066, Robert would have been about 15 years old, so he would likely have had a regent appointed, probably his maternal uncles, Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain, both of whom had good relationships with their half-brother, William. Still, at fifteen, Robert II would have been considered an adult (Odo was between 14 and 19 when William had named Bishop of Bayeux).

Had William died and Robert taken over the duchy, it would have left a power vacuum in northern France that could have been filled by any of Normandy’s neighbors. It could even have seen a grab for power by the French King, Philip I, who was slightly younger than Robert, but who had been sitting on the throne for six years (in 1066, at the age of fourteen, he mother and Baldwin of Flanders ceased to act as regents). A French king recently out from under the thumb of his mother might have seen a Norman power vacuum as the opportunity to flex his muscle.

In the fifty years prior to the events in After Hastings, England saw a successful invasion by Danish Kings Svegn and Cnut (and from 1016-1042 was ruled by Cnut and his sons, a situation which opened the door for the invasion at Stamford Bridge). That period also led to Harold’s predecessor, Edward the Confessor, having close ties to the Norman court (and leading to William’s attempted invasion). Prior to Svegn’s invasion, England was divided between an English part and the Danelaw, which, as the name suggests, was under the sway of the Danes. Following an English victory at Hastings, there is no guarantee that Harold would be able to maintain control over the entire country and it could have once again fragmented. Possibly into the Danelaw and the English-held areas, possibly with a separate kingdom forming in the North to serve as a buffer between England and Scotland (which was ruled, at the time, by the same Malcolm who features in Shakespeare’s Macbeth).

Harold could also have decided that having defeated the Norwegian king and the Norman duke on his own soil, it was time to take the battle to them, either invading Normandy in the face of a weakened William or a teen-age duke, or Norway, where he would face a new monarch. However, Harold had only been on the throne of England since early 1066. Although he had the support of the English earls (the English monarchy was semi-elective in nature, a fact that also contributed to William’s claim on the throne since he believed that Edward had promised him, and had the right to promise him, the English throne), having faced down two external threats in the span of three weeks, he may have found it prudent to remain in England to strengthen his grasp on the country.

None of these are the story I chose to tell in After Hastings, which only means that the Battle of Hastings offers numerous possibilities for a point of divergence for alternate histories. How plausible any of the stories that can grow out of it are is entirely up to the imagination, research, and skill of the writers who choose to tackle it and the acceptance by their eventual readers.


In Steven H Silver’s After Hastings (Ring of Fire Press, $5.99), Harold’s defeat of William the (Would-be) Conqueror at Hastings starts a cascade of events, which soon lead to a conflict with the Roman church. Before long, the deepening conflict threatens to engulf the entire Christian world—and even those beyond it.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #52

A Few (Pointed) Observations of the 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony

By Chris M. Barkley:  I usually don’t offer any commentary after the Hugo Awards are given out because the will of the voters has been expressed and as the song goes, “Some will win, some will lose, some of them will sing the blues.”

And when you consider what happened last Saturday morning in Wellington, New Zealand, I think what unfolded may have looked really bad, but it could have been far, far worse.

Having said that, I think the CoNZealand Hugo Awards Ceremony team deserves a modicum of credit for bringing us a telecast of the awards at all under somewhat grueling circumstances;  even though there were a number of other glitches that were glaringly evident as time went on.

And on.

AND ON…

THE HUGO AWARDS CEREMONY

Yes, the CoNZealand Hugo Awards Ceremony will probably go down as one of the longest and most poorly executed as of now and well into the near future. I am quite sure that everyone involved, and I definitely include George R.R. Martin and the CoNZealand production team had the best of intentions.

I believe that he, and Robert Silverberg, were trying to convey to a global audience the grand, sweeping history and the importance of the award, which is still, after sixty-seven (67!) years, the only prestigious literary award given to authors and artists by readers. But they took an awfully long time to convey that. 

When planning something as arduous as the Hugo Awards Ceremony, the uppermost thing to keep in mind is that brevity and conciseness are your friends and droning on and boring your audience is not what you want under any circumstances. A VERY tight script would have redeemed this broadcast.

Also, and more importantly, GRRM and the producers on his end completely misread the audience tuning in. While his folksy reminiscing and cute anecdotes about the good old days of pre-internet fandom may have been entirely appropriate on a Worldcon panel (of which I have no doubt he has done countless times beforehand) his comments were perceived by the somewhat younger crowd as meandering, problematic and boring. His stories were about as meaningful and relevant as Henry Ford regaling Elon Musk about what a genius idea the production line was.

I am rather puzzled how GRRM, a seasoned writer/producer of several tv shows, could have possibly not foreseen this Titanic-sized iceberg in the making. And with at the very least five or so months of advanced planning, it was entirely avoidable. 

But there’s the rub; this fiasco was NOT entirely GRRM’s fault. He had plenty of help. 

Someone in CoNZealand’s end of the production and the producer in charge of GRRM’s studio, whom I do not know and cannot readily find,  should have recognized the problems at the scripting stage and should be held ultimately responsible for this fiasco. And whomever they are, they should have provided GRRM with the proper pronunciations of the nominee’s names far in advance of the start of the Ceremony.

Very little responsibility should fall on the line producers of the broadcast, Directors Alan Bond and Dragos Ruiu, who were recruited late in the process.   

The script GRRM and his producers had drafted by early July had a proposed running time in excess of OVER THREE HOURS, and that was without the recipients’ speeches! That’s as long as some of the more egregious Academy Awards telecasts of recent years. The final running time of the Ceremony (including the Hugo Award recipients’ speeches) clocked in at three hours thirty-four minutes and fifty-eight seconds. (And for those of you keeping score at home, no, it was not as long as Gone with the Wind; it would have needed yet another 24 minutes to accomplish that. But it sure FELT like it…)

Several days after CoNZealand ended and the bloody autopsies of the broadcast were in full swing, I came across a Facebook post that claimed that the original tech crew had been unceremoniously sacked and had to sign non-disclosure agreements to boot.   

And then there was also this curious post from a recent File 770 comments page:

Chip Hitchcock on August 6, 2020 at 8:30 am wrote:

“@Soon Lee: I’m sympathetic to the issues brought up by having to pivot so close to curtain time. ISTM that the program book should not have been one of those, but the slow connections in the Hugo ceremony (explained in another thread as having been picked up on 3 days’ notice because the original team crumped) is understandable.”

Curious about these claims, I spent several days seeking out, contacting and speaking extensively with a source who worked on the convention. I can completely debunk and dispose both pieces of gossip:

The original technical crew did not “crump”. Nor were they sacked or forced to sign NDAs.

According to my source, the decision was made to replace the New Zealand crew by the American based production team on the evening of July 29 (the first day of the convention) at the request of the US-based producers. This request was made directly by them to the Events Division Head, Mel Duncan. The explanation that was offered was that the tech crew was too widely distributed across several time zones (AEST/NZST/PDT/EDT) and the producers wished to use a centralized crew based solely in the Pacific Daylight Time zone.

That is all fine and well in theory, BUT the original crew had already gone through several rehearsals already and may have been in a better position to handle the technical issues or difficulties that occurred. Or not. We’ll never know for certain.

One thing is certain, GRRM and the production team haven given the World Science Fiction Society a big, black eye. Needless to say, this terrible program has churned up a considerable amount of negative reactions from a wide spectrum of fans and critics. How bad? One acclaimed Hugo Nominated Best Series author, Tade Thompson, was so disgusted by the perceived racism (in praise of problematic writers and editors from generations ago) that he publicly announced on Twitter that he would no longer accept any future nominations from WSFS. So yes, really bad.   

(For those of you who are curious, there is a fan edited version of the Ceremony that is an hour and forty two minutes long.)

BEST RELATED WORK and BEST NOVELLA

The BEST part of the broadcast was the acceptance speeches by the recipients, they were fantastic! In particular, I was especially happy for Jeannette Ng, whose speech at the Dublin 2019 Worldcon accepting the (now former) John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer won the 2020 Best Related Work category. I was privileged to be in the room when it happened; her scathing condemnation of white privilege, fascism and racism was truly one of the most electrifying moments in modern literature and subsequently made headlines around the world. Ms. Ng’s acceptance speech was also heartfelt and stirring, too. 

Of all of the fiction award winners, my only lament is that Ted Chiang’s magnificent novella, “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”, was bested by “This Is How You Lose the Time War”. But Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s story was an epic tour-de-force and just as deserving.

THE 1945 RETRO-HUGOS

I had other concerns. 

When the Retro-Hugo Awards were first established in 1996, it was generally thought that it would be a good idea to honor works of fantasy and science fiction from 50, 75 and 100 years ago. And now after honoring eight years (1938,1940, 1942-1945, 1950 and 1953), folks are having second thoughts about the whole endeavor.

The good news is that the late Leigh Brackett and artist Margaret Brundage were big winners. Brackett won twice, the first for her novel Shadow Over Mars (aka The Nemesis From Terra) and in the Best Related Work for her Writer’s Digest article, “The Science Fiction Field”. The late Ms. Brundage was honored as the Best Artist of 1944, primarily for her artwork that year for Weird Tales

The bad news, as far as I was concerned, was yet another Short Form Editor award for John W. Campbell, Jr and a Best Series award for H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

It seems to me it’s as though when the Retro-Hugos are handed out, the nominators and voters seem to punch Campbell’s award ticket EVERY SINGLE TIME. I freely admit that, without question, he was one of the most influential editors of 20th century sf literature. And despite being a bit of a weird, cranky, an eccentric and a virulent racist, he was revered by his peers and fans alike for decades.

And because of those beliefs, I don’t think that Campbell is held in such high regard by a majority of contemporary fans, writers and editors. But the Hugo Award is not given for a person’s beliefs and character, they are given for the work that has been done. And as much as I may dislike JWC as a person, there is no doubt he did some admirable work, in his era.

By my count, Campbell’s work has netted him fifteen Hugo Awards, eight of those being Retro-Hugos. The question I have is this; how much adulation is enough? Because it seems to me that even with some of the more recent revelations of Campbell’s true nature, there is a die-hard cadre of enthusiasts who will continue giving his surviving family members a Hugo Award in spite of those personal criticisms of his character.      

Well, I stopped nominating and voting for John W. Campbell, Jr.on my Retro ballot years ago. Because there were other editors of that early era who deserve recognition, too. 

As for H.P. Lovecraft, I also recognize that he has had a lasting influence in modern day fantasy and horror. He is also a very disturbing individual and racist whose writing style was admired by his contemporaries and many, many others after his death. Despite that, I have no love or admiration for his work, no matter what his personal views were.I find his works turgid, stomach-turning and generally unpleasant. So my opposition to honoring Lovecraft’s work is strictly aesthetic not personal.

In closing, I will note that Clifford Simak’s “Desertion”, the runner up in the Short Story category, was one of the most enthralling tales that I had ever read in my youth.  It is a far superior story in comparison to the winner, Ray Bradbury’s “I, Rocket”. I think that Bradbury’s long literary shadow was at work here and I believe that honoring such an inferior story would shock and dismay him.

BEST SEMI-PROZONE and BEST EDITOR, LONG & SHORT FORM

Somewhere in the middle of this miasma of an awards show, both GRRM and author Robert Silverberg mused at length about the Best Semiprozine and the Long and Short Form Editing categories. Specifically, why were these awards named in such a manner.

Well, if they knew their Hugo Awards history, they would have known that the Semiprozine category was first awarded in 1984 and, according to Wikipedia, “…is given each year for semi-professionally-edited magazines related to science fiction or fantasy which had published four or more issues, with at least one issue appearing in the previous calendar year.” The award was dominated for decades by Locus Magazine (with 8 wins as Best Fanzine in the 13 years before the creation of the Semiprozine category, followed by another 22 wins until a WSFS Constitution rules change in 2012 made it ineligible in that category.)

I was so disgusted by this category and Locus’ repeated wins that I was once recruited by Discon III Fan Guest of Honor Ben Yalow to try and KILL it altogether at a WSFS Business Meeting. Obviously, we did not succeed, at least, in this timeline. But that’s another story for another day…

In the past decade, there have been meaningful attempts to draft a constitutional amendment to make this category more relevant (and ditch the unwieldy name as well). 

This rather dovetails with Mr. Silverberg’s comments about how odd it was to have a long and short form award for editors. Having labored for three agonizing years in the conclave of SMOFs email lists and the Business Meetings, I can tell Mr. Silverberg that I was in the room where it happened and that he really, REALLY, doesn’t want to know how this particular sausage was made. 

What I can tell you is that the intent of splitting up the Editing category was to find a way to honor magazine/anthology editors and book editors, who had been sadly neglected over the decades. How neglected, you may ask? 

The last two Hugo Award winning book editors were Judy-Lynn Del Rey (1986) and Terry Carr (1987). Both were deceased by the time they were honored..

Ideally, in the 21st century, this mess can be easily solved by establishing the following categories:

  • Best Magazine: Any magazine (in print or online) related to science fiction or fantasy which had published four or more issues or edited volumes in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Anthology or Collection: Any Anthology of original stories or a single author collection related to science fiction or fantasy published in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Book Editor:The editor of at least four (4) novel length works primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy published in the previous calendar year that do not qualify as a magazine or a website.

The only thing needed for the last category to work is the establishment of a uniform commitment by publishers to credit the novel’s editor in every book. Besty Wollheim of DAW Books has been working for the past two years to make this happen. Bravo to her!

There has been some disturbing news in the past few years that certain members of the Business Meeting might be open to abandoning the Book Editor category in favor of a Best Publisher or Imprint Award. I think that would be a terrible shame to shunt book editors back into the shadows after thirteen years in the limelight.  

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION LONG & SHORT FORM

One of the most egregious oversights this year was the omission of the HBO mini-series, Chernobyl from the Long Form category.

If fans had enough gumption to nominate a film like Hidden Figures, which brilliantly dramatized the work of African-American “calculators” who helped guide the Mercury spaceflight program of the 1960’s, what was the impediment to nominating the chilling and dystopian epic of the worst nuclear disaster on record?

In a similar vein, I practically shouted to anyone who would listen that fans should NOT nominate individual episodes of Watchmen, the acclaimed ten part series that served  as a “indirect sequel” to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 1986 Hugo Award winning graphic novel.

And it ALMOST worked; an official statement from CoNZealnd’s Hugo Award Administrators posted on the voting results read as follows:

Watchmen gained enough votes to qualify in this category (81), but two individual episodes also qualified for the Short Form category (“A God Walk Into Abar” 81, “This Extraordinary Being,” 54) with more votes collectively. The Administrators therefore removed Watchmen from this category.”

UGH!   

With Watchmen relegated to two episodes in the Short Form Category, the beneficiary of that move was The Rise of Skywalker, who slipped into the sixth spot with 75 nominations. Next in line was Spider-Man: Far From Home with 74 nominations. (See the 2020 Hugo voting statistics here.)

And what’s this? The entire season of Russian Doll was nominated????? Russian Doll but not Watchmen? That’s the year 2020 for you; all crazy, all of the time. 

So with Chernobyl nowhere to be seen and Watchmen regulated out of the Long Form competition, is anyone surprised that the adaptation of Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (also nominated as a series) was the eventual winner? A good choice, yes, But personally, I’d like to think that Watchmen would have given them a run for their money.

In the Short Form category, the same story, same show, a related result:

“Good Omens: Hard Times (Episode 3)” gained enough votes to qualify in this category (108 nominations), but the entire series of Good Omens also qualified for the Long Form category, with more votes. The Administrators therefore removed “Good Omens: Hard Times” from this category.”

The beneficiary here? The Doctor Who episode “Resolution”, which was promoted on the ballot, just ahead of an episode of The Good Place, “Pandemonium”.

And as much as I like Michael Shur’s comedy of moral philosophy and demonic manners, I heart simply aches that “The Answer” was given the nod over two of Watchmen’s incredible episodes, “A God Walks into Abar” and “This Extraordinary Being.” 

This sort of heartbreak could be avoided if the WSFS Business meeting would come to its senses and adopt the common sense solution that fellow fan Vincent Docherty and I formally proposed two years ago at ConJose (and can be found in Appendix B: 2018 Report of the Hugo Awards Study Committee, on page 27). 

Best Dramatic Presentation: Series – Any TV or streaming series of four 60 minute episodes or more than 240 minutes.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Episodic Form – TV or any other dramatic form, 30-89 minutes.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form – For films, audio books, theatrical productions, 90 minutes or more.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form – Any dramatic form of 30 minutes or less.

Yes, FOUR categories of Dramatic Presentation. If anyone has a better idea, please step forward at the Business Meeting and be prepared to be hammered down.

So, until the proposal above comes to pass (or something like it), my advice to all of you nominating voters stands; if you love this year’s series of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Homecoming, Lovecraft Country or The Umbrella Academy, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT nominate individual episodes, nominate the whole series. That’s what the Long Form Category was created to honor in the first place. 

THE LODESTAR AWARD FOR BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK

No one has EVER explained to my complete and utter satisfaction as to why this cannot be a Hugo Award category.

NO. ONE.

I hope it happens one day. Soon.

In the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS to Naomi Kritzer for her winning book, Catfishing on CatNet. Well Done! 

THIS award should be either a Hugo Award category OR renamed to honor the works and memory of  Ursula K. Le Guin. At this point, either would suit me just fine. Just Sayin’…

Save Uncle Hugo’s: August Update

Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s as they looked before last night’s fire.

Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore owner Don Blyly sent an update to subscribers on August 6 sharing how complicated it is simply to get the wreckage of his two stores torn down.

Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore were burned by vandals on May 30 while protests were happening elsewhere in Minneapolis.

To date the GoFundMe started to Help Save Uncle Hugo’s has raised $163,088 of the $500,000 goal amount.

The complete text of the update is here.

Don Blyly

IT TAKES TIME TO PULL PERMITS. The city has to give permission for the demolition.

 A couple of weeks ago I hired a company to handle the demolition and debris removal at the Uncles site. I asked the guy when the work could be done. He warned me that even in the best of times Minneapolis never issued a demolition permit in less than 30 days, and these are not the best of times. But he got the ball rolling to get the permit. (For those who remember when the Robert’s Shoes building at the corner of Chicago and Lake burned to the ground about 3 years ago, it took the owner 4 months to get a permit to haul away the debris. Every time he thought he had provided every possible piece of paper to the city, they would demand something new.)

THE DENTIST IS ALREADY DRILLING. A neighboring business is making life complicated.

I’ve written before about the dental clinic being built in 1995 using my firewall as his firewall, which worked fine until the Uncles burned to the ground. Suddenly, the new owner of the dental clinic wanted my firewall down as fast as possible so that he could repair his wall and get his business running again. I took down the front half of the wall by hand using a hammer and crow bar on the century-old mortar, but I knew that the back half would require machinery to take down. The dentist called late last Thursday to say that his contractor said that the back half of my wall next to his wall would have to come down within the next 10 days for the contractor to get his work done on time. I explained about the demolition permit and that we would not have the permit within the next 10 days…

On Friday I explained this to my contractor, who wanted to meet with me and the dental clinic contractor at the site sometime on Monday to look over the situation and the proposed solution….

On Monday I took a carload of mail orders to the post office at 9 am and then went to the Uncles site to take measurements to be able to do a site map of the Uncles as the building was before the fire. The dental clinic contractor had already used his bobcat, but not at all like I had been told he would. He did not go through the clinic. Instead, he took down the entire back wall of the back room (which I was assured he would not touch), scooped up most of the debris in the back room and lifted it over the wall into the Uncle Edgar’s space (thereby knocking down much of the Uncle Edgar’s side wall and back wall to about the 4 foot level), and then took down the back room wall next to the clinic and pushed it over next to the Uncle Edgar’s wall. When I arrived, a workman was busy taking down the dental clinic wall and tossing it into Uncle Hugo’s basement. When I complained about this, he claimed that he would pick it all up and put it in the clinic’s dumpster whenever a new dumpster was delivered. Three days later the clinic’s dumpster has been replaced, but the clinic just keeps tossing more of their debris into Uncle Hugo’s basement and hasn’t removed any of the sheet rock tossed in there on Monday.

GOT TO PAY THE PROPERTY TAX, BUT HOW MUCH? When your property has burned down, it’s only fair that it be reassessed for a lower value.

One of the things necessary to get a demolition permit is that the entire year’s property tax must bepaid before the permit can be issued. Half of the year’s property tax is due May 15 (and was paid) and the second half is due by October 15. But Minneapolis publicized that they would be reducing the property tax for the second half of the year for buildings destroyed or significantly damaged during the rioting. I filled out the form on-line in early July, and the city promised that a tax assessor would contact me within 3 business days. Nobody ever contacted me, so on July 20 I tried to contact the city assessor’s office.

…My on-line form had arrived, but around 800 properties had requested re-assessment because of damage from the riot and the work-from-home staff was simply overwhelmed with work. The city assessor’s office had until the beginning of September to complete those 800 re-assessments and send new figures to Hennepin County so that they could come up with new property tax figures. …Certainly not an ideal situation, but I now know that I should pay the higher tax now to move a step closer to the demolition permit, and hope someday to get a partial refund.

NOBODY TURNED OFF THE WATER? Apparently, in Uncle Hugo’s debris-filled basement, the water has been leaking for two months.

I eventually received a water bill for the store, forwarded to my home (which seems to added about 7-10 days). It charged me for estimated water and sewer volumes from 6-12-20 to 7-12-20, but demanded that I call them to arrange for a meter reading. I called and explained that the building was burnt to the ground on May 30, the water meter was in the basement under many feet of rubble, and I assumed that they had turned off the water when the fire struck, just like the electrical company and the gas company had done. The first person I talked to assured me that the water had not been turned off, and that the water had probably been pouring out of a broken pipe in the basement for over 2 months, so my water bill would probably be much higher than the estimated bill….

WINDING UP THE BUSINESS. This would be complicated anyway, but now the pandemic is affecting everyone.

It is taking longer than I expected to get matters cleared up with some publishers. Immediately after the fire the publishers were all asked to put the account on hold so that no orders could be shipped to us until we were ready, cancel all the old purchase orders that had not yet been sent, and change the address from the store address to my home address to speed up communications. Then, when a new monthly statement came in I would look for invoices that we might not have received (dated late May) and request copies of them so that I could determine if we had received them.

Both UPS and the post office stopped delivering to much of south Minneapolis after May 26 because of the riots. … UPS simply returned to sender every package addressed to the Uncles and over 100 other businesses, but some of the warehouses the boxes were returned to were short-handed because of covid-19 and took months to issue credits… It was a real mess trying to figure out what I really owed and send out checks. …I hope that within another month I’ll have everything cleaned up with the cooperative publishers

A MAN AND HIS DOG. Don Blyly’s dog, who comes from a long-lived breed, misses the store.

…If Ecko lives to be 20, that means she’ll still be dragging me around on half-mile walks when I’m 81. I’m not sure what to think about that. But she really misses going to the store and greeting people.

Uncle Hugo’s Progress Report

Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s as they looked before the fire.

Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore owner Don Blyly sent an update to subscribers on July 9 telling them what he’s learned so far about possibly rebuilding his two stores.

Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore were burned by vandals on May 30 while protests were happening elsewhere in Minneapolis.

The GoFundMe started to Help Save Uncle Hugo’s has raised $158,130 to date.

REQUIREMENTS TO REBUILD. Blyly has found it difficult just getting bids on the demolition and construction work that will be needed.

Don Blyly

In order to figure out what it will cost to rebuild in the old location, I will first have to get the old building demolished and the debris hauled away.  I tried to get 4 bids, and only 2 companies were willing to give me bids, and they were not in agreement about what was possible.  The front of the building, which housed Uncle Hugo’s, was built around 1915, with a basement.  The back of the building where Uncle Edgar’s was located, was on a concrete slab, and was built in the 1950’s.  The back office and storage area was also built on a concrete slab and was built around 1980.  When I bought the Uncle’s building, there was a very attractive 3-story brick building om the south side, with their brick fire wall flush against my brick fire wall.  That building burned around 1992, and I tried to see if I could purchase the lot for parking, but the city wanted the dental clinic to go onto the lot instead.  (Much more property tax from a dental clinic than from a parking lot.)

When the dental clinic was built in 1995, the dentist got the city to agree that he could used my fire wall as his fire wall, saving him a lot of money for construction, and allowing the interior dimensions of his clinic to be a bit bigger.  This worked fine until the Uncle’s building burned.  There was only about an inch between my fire wall and his sheet rock wall, which he constructed right on his property line.  All of the demolition people were very nervous about taking down my fire wall without doing major damage to the dental clinic, and this no doubt contributed to only two companies being willing to give me bids, and how high the bids were.  So I spent 5 days (in very hot, very humid weather) with a hammer and crowbar taking down about 60 feet of fire wall.  (And also got sunburned for the first time in over 50 years.)  That section had mortar than was over 100 years old and came apart fairly easily.  There is still about 40 more feet of fire wall along the back room, where there is about a 5 inch gap between the buildings, but that section is concrete blocks and much newer mortar, and I’m not going to try that by hand.

I’ve received different stories from the demo people about the basement.  Some thought they could scoop everything out, leave the basement walls in place, and leave the hole in place (fenced off, of course) until I wanted to rebuild.  Some thought that once the support beams were removed that go from the front basement wall to the back basement wall, all the basement walls would collapse into the basement, causing the sidewall to also collapse and perhaps causing the dental clinic foundation to collapse. Some thought the city would force me to take out all the basement walls even if they were sturdy enough to be left in place.  Some thought that the city would force me to fill the basement hole with fill dirt immediately even if I wanted to rebuild with a basement (at a cost of an extra $30,000 to haul in the dirt, and then even more later to haul the dirt away again).

The back of the store is on concrete slabs.  If all the debris could be removed without cracking the slabs, then the removal cost would be a lot less, and the rebuilding expense would be a lot less because new concrete block walls could be put up on top of the existing slabs.  There was disagreement among the demo people about how likely it was that the concrete slabs could be saved, except that if the city forced me to remove the basement walls then it would be impossible to save the slabs.

Much of the debris removal cost would involve how many truckloads of debris would be hauled away and where it could be taken.  Most of the debris consists of wet, partially burned books, magazines, and bookcases, but all the demo people wanted to treat everything as hazardous waste full of lead, arsenic, and asbestos, to be hauled away to a hazardous waste dump at a much higher cost.

After the debris is all gone, after I know if the basement hole is allowed to remain, after I know if the concrete slabs survived, then I’ll be able to get estimates on rebuilding in the old location.  I’ve just barely begun looking at the real estate market to see about the possibility of buying an existing building as another option.  But I can see that the city’s push to tear down single story buildings along major streets to be replaced by multi-story buildings has had an impact on the availability and pricing of older single story buildings.

DOING BUSINESS WITHOUT A STORE. Blyly has resumed doing some business, limited to online and mail orders. (Order t-shirts here.)

I’ve also been working on mail orders. Some people have been ordering just shirts, some people have been ordering just books, and some people have been ordering a mixture of shirts and books.  I still have a lot of shirts left, but not necessarily the sizes and colors that are being ordered.  Thirteen days ago I ordered another 300 shirts, a combination of special orders for odd sizes, shirts to fill orders that had come in for sizes and colors that I had run out of, and some extra copies of some of the more popular sizes and colors.  I contacted the shirt printer yesterday to see when we might expect delivery.  He said that the supply chain for blank shirts has been in very bad shape since the covid-19 problem started.  I still have not received a few shirts from our mid-May order.  He says that by this weekend he’ll be able to give me an estimate of when he’ll be able to deliver most of the recent order.  As soon as I get those shipped, I’ll be ready to send him an order for another 250-300 shirts.

I ordered a bunch of Lois McMaster Bujold books from Baen Books a week ago and received about a third of the order a couple of days ago, but no sign of the rest of the order.

I ordered a bunch of her books from NESFA Press  11 days ago, but they still have not shown up.  The Orphans of Raspay will supposedly be delivered by UPS later today.  As soon as Orphans shows up, I haul those and whatever else has shown up by that time out to Lois’ place for signatures, and then be able to start filling a lot of orders.  

I should also be receiving today a bunch of other books by other authors that people have ordered, so I’ll be able to concentrate on filling mail orders for a while instead of hanging out at the ruins of the Uncles getting more sunburn.

Q&A With Ry Herman
About Love Bites

Ry Herman’s debut fantasy novel, Love Bites, is coming out from Jo Fletcher Books on July 9. Filers know the author here as Kyra, contributor of myriad reviews and curator of 770’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Brackets.

Love Bites centers on two people trying to rebuild their lives – one in a very literal way.

…Two years after a painful divorce, Chloë is still struggling to leave the house, paralysed by anxiety and memory. So when she’s bullied into a night of dancing by her busybody aunt and finds herself in a goth club, on her own, in a strange part of town, she isn’t looking for anything more than to pass the time until she can leave.

Then she meets Angela, a smart, beautiful astronomy Ph.D. student whose smile makes her heart pound. In Angela’s eyes, Chloë can see a future. Suddenly, home alone is the last place Chloë wants to be.

…Angela and Chloë might just be perfect for each other. But how do you build a life together when one of you is already dead?

About the author: Ry Herman, born in the U.S., is now a permanent Scottish resident, and has been writing theatrical plays for most of his life. He acts and directs, and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019. He is bisexual and genderqueer. Hobbies include baking bread, playing tabletop roleplaying games, and reading as many books as humanly possible.

MIKE GLYER: What was the inspiration for Love Bites?

RY HERMAN: I met the love of my life in a goth club, one night very close to the turn of the 21st century. Both of us had recently gotten out of awful relationships. That created a bond between us, in the shared understanding of what we’d both been through, but at the same time it made us reluctant to start anything new. That dynamic, that simultaneous drawing together and pushing apart, eventually formed the basis for the book.

MG: Legend, books, and movies give vampires various attributes and vulnerabilities. What have you added and subtracted from the traditional vampire?  In fact, doesn’t one of your characters try to come up with tests to answer that for herself?

RY HERMAN: I tried to keep my vampires fairly traditional in their attributes. Mine are a bit more invulnerable than some. There are so many accumulated vampire legends, though, that every author has to pick and choose. One I didn’t include, but would love to see in a story sometime, is the arithmomania aspect; in some legends, one way to stop a vampire is to put a pile of millet or rice in their way, because they’ll be compelled to stop and count every grain.

And yes, the main vampire in my story is a scientist by training, and she immediately sets out to test how her newfound supernatural powers work. She becomes very frustrated, too, when some of them obstinately defy logic – she isn’t invisible, so why doesn’t she have a reflection?

MG: I enjoyed the wordplay – where else am I going to see a character say they spent a weekend learning to “cooper a firkin”? Language that suited the character just fine, I should add – she’s an editor at a publishing house, after all. But to tailor the vocabulary just right, did you have to “kill your darlings” sometimes? 

RY HERMAN: I actually tend to hear character voices very clearly in my head from the beginning. I suspect that’s because I began my writing career as a playwright, and theater conveys information almost entirely through dialogue. But for the same reason, physical description was something I had to go through a long process of learning to write when I turned to novels. I think it was around the third draft when I realized that maybe readers would like to know what my characters look like – you never put that in a play, because you don’t know what actor will end up playing the part. In the early stages of the book, there were a lot of failed attempts at description, and a number of descriptive passages I initially quite liked but later realized had to be changed or cut.

MG: Lately I have seen several writers put into characters’ mouths the idea that life is composed of stories we tell ourselves. The figure in Love Bites who says that might be an unreliable narrator – (or might not!) – Is her advice a good strategy for changing your life? 

RY HERMAN: Yes and no, I think. Many of the events that affect our lives really are external to us and out of our control, and there isn’t a way to alter them through sheer force of will. But I do think that the way we interpret and respond to events is, in a real way, an ongoing story we tell ourselves. It’s possible to change that narrative. And if we’re all the protagonists of our own stories, it’s important to remember that tragedies are traditionally about protagonists who can’t or won’t learn and change.

MG: Two of your main characters are abuse survivors from other relationships, and in a series of scenes threaded through the book you show us what one of them experienced. What’s one thing a writer needs to keep in mind when writing about a character in an abusive relationship?

RY HERMAN: I’m reluctant to make a blanket prescription for this, because I think everyone experiences abuse in their own way. For myself, I found it important to keep it as emotionally real as I could, even when that made it very difficult to write. But leaving out the difficult parts would have meant only telling part of the story.

MG: Who are some authors of supernatural characters that you admire, and why?

RY HERMAN: There are so many! I’m going to have to restrict it to a few. Robin McKinley created some of the best vampires ever written in Sunshine – recognizable as once being human, but at the same time creepily alien. For fairies, I might go with Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series. She makes them attractive and horrifying at the same time. The werewolves in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books are pretty great. But I really could go on forever – Kirsty Logan’s mermaids, Tasha Suri’s daiva, Sophie Cameron’s angels, R. F. Kuang’s shamans, Robert Jackson Bennett’s gods, Max Gladstone’s craftworkers, Fonda Lee’s Green Bones, N. K. Jemisin’s orogenes, Rachel Hartman’s dragons, Victoria Schwab’s ghosts, T. Kingfisher’s witches, Tamsyn Muir’s necromancers …

MG: By the end of the book important decisions about sexuality and the fate of a relationship are not the only issues your main characters have to cope with, so are immortality, supernatural strength, and foretelling the future. Is there meant to be a sequel? The key relationships get resolved, but there are questions that didn’t demand immediate answers which could lead to another novel.

RY HERMAN: There will be a sequel! Bleeding Hearts, the second book about Angela and Chloë, will be coming out sometime in 2021. I wrote it because those unresolved questions eventually made me desperate to find out what was going on with the characters a year later.

MG: What else does the future hold for Ry Herman?

RY HERMAN: Hopefully, a lot more books after these!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #51

An Independent Opinion of Science Fiction: A Declaration

By Chris M. Barkley:

I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they might be.

-Alexander Hamilton,  from a letter written on August 13, 1782

As a frequent user of Facebook, one of my daily (and habitual) delights has been posting fantasy and sf items of interest to many, MANY pages. (And YES, some of those items have been cribbed from this very website). 

One of my favorite pages is simply titled Science Fiction, a private group with nearly 68,300 members. The page was established in February 2008 and describes itself as:
“Science Fiction in all forms: Movies, books, t.v. shows, comics, video games and other media. Discussions of science and technology of the future in fiction.”  

It is clearly stated in the Group Rules of the Forum that:

1) Be polite, courteous, friendly. Be Polite. No disrespecting each other (even via pm’s)
2) Stay on target. Posts must be Science Fiction (or close to it) in nature. Discussions & comments must be about Scifi.
3) No irl politics & religion. Polite discussion of politics & religion must be in the context of specific usage in a specific scifi I.P. No discussions of real world politics or religions are allowed here.

During my time as a member, I’ve had some general disagreements with others that all fan groups have experienced since the Big Bang.  familiar with some members but it was all amiable and non-confrontational. That is, until recently…

Over the past two weeks I posted four items on the Science Fiction page which have drawn a LOT of attention:

On June 20th: “10 awesome science fiction and fantasy books by Black authors” by Daniel Devita

Almost immediately, several commentators, all of them white, accused me of racism. The primary reason seemed to be that I, an African American, was openly calling attention to black authors. Why wasn’t I promoting white writers? That MUST be racist. This was a peculiar bit of illogical thinking to me since NO ONE seemed to be objecting to memes and images about white actors, writers and authors that anyone (including myself) were posting on a regular basis everyday.

On June 22nd, these two posts: “Octavia Paved The Way” and “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” by Cree Myles.

In the former, I was chastised for posting about the birthday of a celebrated Black woman sf writer because, well, she’s Black and dead. What? In the latter, AGAIN, I was called to task for “just promoting” Black writers. Who the hell was I to do THAT?

Lastly, there was this Instagram post of several reimagined illustrations of a Black Wonder Woman (titled Nubia By Render Goddess), which in turn was posted on The Secret Society of Black Superheroes Facebook Page:

Again, there was a constant barrage from white commenters, who either made disparaging remarks about the images, the darkness of her skin that were overtly racist or adamant claims that Wonder Woman could be either Lynda Carter or Gal Gadot but NEVER A PERSON OF COLOR.  

When I joined the Science Fiction page, it was my expressed goal to offer opinions and observations about science fiction that go beyond “what are you watching”, “what game are you excited about” and “who has the faster/cooler spaceship.” My intent was to offer an opportunity to think outside the perimeters of the culture the people were familiar with and expand people’s awareness of the larger universe of possibilities that sf literature, art and film has to offer. Because, it is generally thought, sf is supposed to be ‘fun”. Well, the moment people say something derogatory about someone’s race or gender, BOOM, you just made it VERY political

There has been a lot of support for my postings, from like-minded fans and people of color. But, as it has become readily apparent to me that there are a number of members who seriously object to discussing or considering diversity and instead have decided to reply with some rather defensive and disparaging comments on these posts.

To those members of Science Fiction forum, I have a very simple message for you: You’re WRONG.  HOW WRONG? Let me quote one of our greatest fictional Presidents (and THANK YOU VERY MUCH, Aaron Sorkin), Josiah Bartlet: “No. No ‘however’. Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.”

Furthermore, I was very heartened by the force of those who rose in defense of my posts. The message was very clear to the detractors: your time is up. It’s over. Collectively, we will no longer “bend the knee” and passively accept your boorish stances and hate speech.

Yes, you have a right to your opinions, as incredibly uninformed and crude as they are. But as an enlightened and educated person, I and other like-minded fans don’t have to stand it.When I post a link celebrating a great author of color, it is not an invitation to say, “Why are you posting THAT? I don’t see race and it’s an insulting to me to inject the subject onto a discussion on science fiction.”

Well, when someone claims something isn’t about race or ethnicity, it’s definitely about race and ethnicity. When I see those comments, I honestly have to question their credentials to be fans of science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter).

I once attended a 2007 guest lecture given by actor and social activist Edward James Olmos (who is either Lt. Castillo or Commander Adama, depending on how old or actor savvy you are).  The title of his talk was “We’re All In The Same Gang”, a meditation on how America has treated ethnic minorities over the centuries and how we can come together as a nation in these divided times. The capstone quote I remember the most was “There is only ONE race; The HUMAN race.” And he is correct, every single human that has ever lived can be traced back to a single area of land that eventually broke off and is currently the continent of Africa.

So since it is a scientific fact that we are ALL of African descent, is being colorblind to one’s race an acceptable attitude? Not in my opinion. And that was not the point of Mr. Olmos’ quote. Yes, we’re all in the same gang but as of today, not all of the gang are being treated or respected as equal. When white people, well-meaning or otherwise say that damning phrase, it is not true by any stretch of the imagination.

White people In America are, on the whole, are apt to be by default, given more of the benefit of doubt in social situations and more financial, educational and social opportunities than people of color. There’s that term, “white privilege”, that you keep hearing about. That’s what it is; an (almost) imperceptible program of racist bias running in the background of our everyday lives. 

When most white people walk out their front doors, they can be relatively assured that barring some unfortunate circumstance, they’ll be home after work and catch that new episode of House Hunters on HGTV. However, I step outside my door, I am marked by the color of my skin. I can’t even walk into Target, Kroger or WalMart without having at least one set of eyes lasered in one me, assessing my six-foot frame as to whether or not I’ll be shoplifting or robbing the place. (And the fact that I’m wearing a mask against being infected by COVID-19 only adds to their anxiety.)

And while we all strive to live, work and survive together in these difficult times, there are a number of white people who conveniently forget or have chosen to ignore America’s unreconciled racist past. And to this very day, America, as a nation, has NEVER come to terms with its racist past or its untenable, unsustainable present.

That the Native Americans had their lands stolen wholesale to be plundered and that Africans were trafficked as human chattel starting four hundred and one years ago by and for white settlers from Europe. You cannot wash away or forget that much racism, terrorism, theft and genocide without acknowledging these heinous wrongs. 

The lack of representation by people of color in every facet of life has been in the forefront of our swiftly evolving culture over the past generation. And the white people who have repressed their feelings about this for decades are clearly nervous by the tenor of the terrible comments my posts have garnered. 

The racists CLAIM to like science fiction but only if it is populated with the safe, comforting presence of white actors portraying Luke, Leia and Han or Kirk Spock and McCoy. And if, perchance, aliens land or AI’s gain full sentience, what would happen? I firmly believe that they would be among the first to grab the nearest weapon, start firing first and asking questions late.  Because if you can’t handle the thought of people of color writing popular novels, or Latinx leads on television or Asian folks in sf movies, you sure as hell aren’t the sort of material the human race needs to be picked for anyone’s “first contact” team. And when they act out their racial insecurities in this fashion, they do a big disservice to other sf fans who celebrate and welcome diversity. These racists try and hold themselves up as paragons of virtue, and talk about “saving” science fiction from those despicable liberals and progressive snobs.

Congratulations; you may like Star Trek, but your posts have proven that you are incapable of understanding the meaning and underlying philosophy behind what Gene Roddenberry, and those who followed in his wake, were actually espousing. That sf is more than cool spaceships jumping into hyperspace, blowing up planets or battling alien invaders intent on wiping out humanity. That’s only a very small part of what sf is actually about.

What is a good definition of science fiction? The best quote I ever read came from my friend, the late SFWA Grandmaster Frederik Pohl: “Science Fiction is the very literature of change.”
SF also concerns itself with the wonder, terrors and fears of the human, or alien, condition. It is an adventure into the soul of existence, that we may, if we’re lucky, get to know the unknowable with a judicious application of wisdom, compassion, empathy and experience.

Change is unavoidable. Change is inevitable. Change is happening, whether you like it not.

In the distant past, societal change, such as democracy, the Civil Rights Movement, artistic and scientific advances were incredibly glacial. Sometimes centuries would pass before anything meaningful would happen to change the human condition. But not in this day and in this age. Changes today can occur faster and with more meaningful impact than ever before. On May 25th, a Black man was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis and died right before our eyes. A month later, millions of people from all over the world, of all races, genders and political persuasions were shouting his name in those same streets, calling out for justice and to hold the responsible parties of systemic racism to be held to account for their tyranny.

We all know the name of George Floyd because he died horribly and became a martyr on the altar of racial injustice and intolerance. But you have seen what has happened in the wake of his death. Change is coming.

In fact, some change has already been felt on the Science Fiction page: more than a dozen people have been removed from the group for gross violations of the page’s policies by the administrators of the page. I have no doubt that the administrators of the Science Fiction page were shocked by these wretched and volatile comments. These removals weren’t done because of “political correctness”, they were done because “free speech” is not a license to be irresponsible or cruel. They were vile. They were indecent by any measure of the word. Because the freedom to post comes with responsibilities and consequences as well.

To my fellow page members, I say this: Continue to post what you like and what you love about sf. Whether it be online, in bookstores, in the streets, at parties or at conventions, we all should welcome diverse political, scientific and philosophical viewpoints and debates. But irrational hate speech, insensitivity towards the racial identity, gender or sexual preferences of others is not welcome, now, or ever.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.