Storm Over Campbell Award

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer has been presented at the Worldcon since 1973, two years after Campbell’s death. The 47th winner was Jeannette Ng. Will there be a 48th? Many are responding to her acceptance remarks with a call to change the name of the award.

Although voting is administered by the Worldcon, the award belongs to Dell Magazines, publisher of Analog. It was named for him because Campbell edited Astounding/Analog for 34 years and in his early years at the helm he introduced Heinlein, Asimov, and many other important sf writers, reigning over what was called by the time of his death the Golden Age of SF. That cemented his legend as a discoverer of talent (regardless that in later years he passed on submissions from any number of talented newcomers incuding Samuel R. Delany and Larry Niven).

A revised version of Jeanette Ng’s acceptance remarks is posted at Medium, “John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist”, with the profanity removed and other corrections made.

A video of the actual speech is here —

Jeannette Ng’s tweets about the reaction include —

Annalee Newitz commented:

Rivers Solomon, another Campbell nominee, posted screenshots of the acceptance speech they would have given. Thread starts here.

N.K. Jemisin explains why the term “fascist” in Ng’s speech is apposite. Thread starts here.

Alec Nevala-Lee, author of Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, says:

Past Campbell Award winner (2000) Cory Doctorow supported Ng in an article at Boing Boing: “Read: Jeannette Ng’s Campbell Award acceptance speech, in which she correctly identifies Campbell as a fascist and expresses solidarity with Hong Kong protesters”.

Jeannette Ng’s speech was exactly the speech our field needs to hear. And the fact that she devoted the bulk of it to solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters is especially significant, because of the growing importance of Chinese audiences and fandom in sf, which exposes writers to potential career retaliation from an important translation market. There is a group of (excellent, devoted) Chinese fans who have been making noises about a Chinese Worldcon for years, and speeches like Ng’s have to make you wonder: if that ever comes to pass, will she be able to get a visa to attend?

Back when the misogynist/white supremacist wing of SF started to publicly organize to purge the field of the wrong kind of fan and the wrong kind of writer, they were talking about people like Ng. I think that this is ample evidence that she is in exactly the right place, at the right time, saying the right thing.

… When Ng took the mic and told the truth about his legacy, she wasn’t downplaying his importance: she was acknowledging it. Campbell’s odious ideas matter because he was important, a giant in the field who left an enduring mark on it. No one disagrees about that. What we want to talk about today is what that mark is, and what it means.

Another Campbell winner, John Scalzi, tried to see all sides in “Jeannette Ng, John W. Campbell, and What Should Be Said By Whom and When” at Whatever.

… You can claim the John W. Campbell Award without revering John W. Campbell, or paying him lip service, and you can criticize him, based on what you see of his track record and your interpretation of it. The award is about the writing, not about John W. Campbell, and that is a solid fact. If a recipient of the Campbell Award can’t do these things, or we want to argue that they shouldn’t, then probably we should have a conversation about whether we should change the name of the award. It wouldn’t be the first time an award in the genre has been materially changed in the fallout of someone calling out the problems with the award’s imagery. The World Fantasy Award was changed in part because Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar were public (Samatar in her acceptance speech!) about the issue of having a grotesque of blatant racist HP Lovecraft as the trophy for the award. There was a lot of grousing and complaining and whining about political correctness then, too. And yet, the award survives, and the new trophy, for what it’s worth, is gorgeous. So, yes, if this means we have to consider whether it’s time to divorce Campbell from the award, let’s have that discussion.

Now, here’s a real thing: Part of the reaction to Ng’s speech is people being genuinely hurt. There are still people in our community who knew Campbell personally, and many many others one step removed, who idolize and respect the writers Campbell took under his wing. And there are people — and once again I raise my hand — who are in the field because the way Campbell shaped it as a place where they could thrive. Many if not most of these folks know about his flaws, but even so it’s hard to see someone with no allegiance to him, either personally or professionally, point them out both forcefully and unapologetically. They see Campbell and his legacy abstractly, and also as an obstacle to be overcome. That’s deeply uncomfortable.

It’s also a reality. Nearly five decades separate us today from Campbell. It’s impossible for new writers today to have the same relationship to him as their predecessors in the field did, even if the influence he had on the field works to their advantage….

Bounding Into Comics’ Spencer Baculi unexpectedly followed Doctorow’s and Scalzi’s lead, even though the site often covers the work of Jon Del Arroz and Vox Day’s Alt-Comics: “2019 John W. Campbell Award Winner Jeanette Ng Labels Influential Sci-Fi Author as a “Fascist” During Acceptance Speech”.

…Ng’s assessment of Campbell is undoubtedly informed by Campbell’s personal politics and beliefs and those who have written about him. Campbell argued that African-Americans were “barbarians” deserving of police brutality during the 1965 Watts Riots, as “the “brutal” actions of police consist of punishing criminal behavior.” His unpublished story All featured such racist elements that author Robert Heinlein, who built upon Campbell’s original story for his own work titled Sixth Column, had to “reslant” the story before publishing it. In the aftermath of the Kent State massacre, when speaking of the demonstrators murdered by the Ohio National Guard, Campbell stated that “I’m not interested in victims. I’m interested in heroes.” While difficult to presume where Campbell’s beliefs would place him in modern politics, it is apparent that Campbell would disagree with many of the beliefs held by modern America.

Ng’s speech unsurprisingly caused backlash and outrage among some members of the literary community, with some claiming that Ng should have withheld from insulting the man whose award she was receiving.

Chris M. Barkley praised Ng’s comments in his File 770 post “So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask — Special Irish Worldcon Edition, Day Four”.

…I was one of the people madly cheering this speech. I posted a meme on Facebook as she was still speaking: “Jeannette Ng is AWESOME!!!!!” Moments later, swept up in the moment, I posted another meme, “I’m just gonna say it: The Name of the John W. Campbell Award SHOULD BE F***KING CHANGED!”

To clamor atop a soapbox for a moment; NO, I am not advocating that the life and work of John W. Campbell, Jr. be scrubbed from history. But neither should we turn a blind, uncritical eye to his transgressions. When the winners of such a prestigious award start getting angry because the person behind it is viewed to be so vile and reprehensible, that ought to be acknowledged as well….

Mark Blake honored a request to comment about Campbell on Facebook.

For a brief period a few years ago, my byline was prominently associated with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. This was not because I’d ever won such an award, or even appeared on the ballot (I was never a nominee), but rather because I assembled anthologies for the purpose of showcasing new writers during their two-year window of eligibility, as an exercise in public awareness of writing that, despite potential merit, might not have received sufficient reviews to garner an audience among the Worldcon membership at large.

In that context, someone asked me to defend Campbell because of the acceptance speech given by this year’s recipient.

This was an uncomfortable request. The more I’ve learned about Campbell over the years, the more certain I’ve become that I wouldn’t have even wanted to share an elevator with him, much less try to sell him a story… and I say that despite having learned any number of his storytelling and editing techniques by way of hand-me-down tutelage….

Amazing Stories’ Steve Davidson was mainly concerned that Ng’s remarks were bad for the brand – i.e., Ng mistakenly identified Campbell as an editor of his magazine instead of Astounding/Analog. “Emergency Editorial”.

…A couple of days ago we watched and updated our post covering the 2019 Hugo Awards;  we were a bit surprised at Jeannette Ng’s acceptance where she made some connections between fascism in the SF field, fascism in the US and the events taking place in Hong Kong right now.  Hong Kong is Ms. Ng’s home base and we are absolutely and completely in sympathy with her and the protesters who are braving arrest, and possibly worse, as they try to maintain their freedoms.

We entirely missed the misattributions of Ms. Ng’s speech;  what she wanted to do was identify John W. Campbell Jr., the editor of Astounding Stories, as a fascist.  She ended up naming Jospeph Campbell as the editor of Amazing Stories….

I am sure she is tired, chuffed, overwhelmed and, perhaps even a bit embarrassed over having misnamed Campbell and the magazine he was associated with in front of an audience and a community that knows this history without even thinking about it.

But the internet being what it is, disrespect for facts being what they are these days, I can not allow the idea that John W. Campbell – racist, anti-semite, fascist, misogynist, whatever – was associated with Amazing Stories to go unchallenged….

Ng has issued a correction:

Swedish Fan Ahrvid Engholm today sent two fannish listservs copies of a complaint he has filed with the Dublin 2019 committee that Ng’s speech violated the convention’s Code of Conduct.

…One may wonder what a Code of Conduct is worth, if it isn’t respected by those who have all eyes upon them on the big stage, during the highlight of a convention, such as the awards ceremonies witnessed by thousands.

I therefore want to report, as a breach of the Code of Conduct during Dublin 2019, the intimidation and personal attacks in Jeannette Ng’s Campbell Award speech, of which the very lows are wordings like:

“John W. Campbell…was a fascist” and he was “setting a tone” she claims “haunts” us as “Sterile. Male. White.” glorifying “imperialists” etc.

Full text here https://twitter.com/jeannette_ng/status/1163182894908616706
Several parts of the CoC (as published in the Pocket Convention Guide, and also here https://dublin2019.com/about/code-of-conduct/) may apply, but let me point to:

“Everyone involved with Dublin 2019 is expected to show respect towards…the various communities associated with the convention. …Dublin 2019 is dedicated to provide a harassment-free convention experience for all Attendees regardless of…gender…race…We do not tolerate harassment of convention attendees in any form” /which includes:/
* Comments intended to belittle, offend or cause discomfort”

Most if not all would find being called a “fascist” offending, surely causing discomfort.

And it’s especially deplorable when the person belittled this way has passed away and thus can’t defend himself. It is reported that John W Campbell’s grandson John Campbell Harrmond was present at the convention that branded his grandfather a “fascist”. John W Campbell was the leading sf magazine editor of his era (of Astounding SF, not Amazing Stories as this far from well-founded speech said) and have many admirers who also have cause to feel offended. If you like Campbell, the claim he is a “fascist” surely splashes on you too – you’d be “fascist sympathiser”.

Ms Ng continues to harass whole categories of convention Attendees, those who are “male” and “white”. They are “sterile” and the negative “tone” claimed being “set” in the sf genre. It must be noted that the CoC is explicitly against slurs regarding race and gender. (And in these circumstances “white” indicates race and “male” gender.) The CoC further says it won’t be tolerated “in any form”, which surely must also include the form of a speech from a big stage.

It is too late now do do anything about this regrettable episode, but those making reports are asked to state what they would like to happen next. What I simply want is to get it confirmed that the event reported indeed IS a breach of the CoC, because that could be important for the future.

–Ahrvid Engholm
sf con-goer since 1976 (of Worldcons since 1979)

Scott Edelman supported Ng in several comments, describing his deep unhappiness with some of Campbell’s opinions at the time the were originally published 50 years ago. He also quoted this anecdote from the autobiography of William Tenn / Phil Klass:

232 thoughts on “Storm Over Campbell Award

  1. Rick Moen:

    It is almost 30 years since I studied fascism in Political Science at university, but even then fascism was a very broad term that had long expanded outside Mussolini’s version and was used as a generic term regarding several groups, sometimes with varying ideologies.

    And even then, we were taught that there wasn’t a common definition, only different lists of common characteristics. Nolte defined it more as a reaction against than a movement for something.

    So I do not give much to those who try to argue for purist definitions.

  2. The word “fascism” has only reached the US Supreme Court once that I can recall, and appropriately enough, it was in a case which restricted freedom of speech.

    @Chris R: I don’t know that N.K. Jemisin has any particular expertise in history or political science. She’s using the word loosely there. It’s really not quite right to use it on Trump, either. He’s closer to Erdogan than any other recent political figure I can think of. Authoritarian is closest. Or scumbag. That’s a nice, all-purpose word.

  3. @Hampus: I certainly concur with what you said.

    I was merely drawing a distinction between the 1930s-1940s concept when the term had a reasonably specific (if somewhat problematic) meaning, and recent decades when it’s been used without any hope of a standard definition.

    But I was also saying that said discussion is a dumb digression from Ms. Ng’s substantive meaning, which couldn’t have been clearer. (And that’s why I said I might regret delving into definitional neepery even to the extent I did.) It’s almost like the people raising that argument are just seeking any old tatty excuse for dismissing what she said.

  4. @John B. Traylor

    Why did she accept the award?

    At a wild guess, because she’d been voted for it by a set of people whose approbation she valued?
    Why shouldn’t she have accepted it?

  5. It’s almost like the people raising that argument are just seeking any old tatty excuse for dismissing what she said

    As I said in my original comment:

    And, by way of finishing up, I’ll note that Jeanette Ng had every right to say what she did, that Campbell was a despicable POS (for all his importance to the field), and that him being a POS should not be glossed over or excused

    So, thanks for the sub-tweet, but no.

  6. Total:

    “In any case, it’s clear that fascism is becoming a generic term at this point, actual history be damned, but you might think about whether forgetting John C. Calhoun is actually a good idea or not.”

    If I had been an American, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have wanted Calhoun forgotten. But as I am not, I do not really expect members of a Worldcon to focus their history lessons on American history instead of their own.

  7. @John J. Arkensawyer if her writing about systems of oppression is any evidence… I’ll go with “yes” on that question. You’re of course free to disagree. It lines up well with many other authoritative definitions, too.

    I find it fascinating, and suggestive, how hard people try to dodge this label on behalf of someone they don’t know, and just how selective some of the commenters here become about which authorities they’re willing to accept on these terms.

  8. @Total: So, thanks for the sub-tweet, but no.

    FWIW, I wasn’t thinking of you at all. For the record, I think your postings here have been interesting and fairly well thought-out. (If I missed something outrageous, blame jet lag and my continuing desire to think well of people to the extent reasonably possible, including your good self.)

  9. But as I am not, I do not really expect members of a Worldcon to focus their history lessons on American history instead of their own

    Both Campbell and Calhoun were Americans, and if you want to understand Campbell, you’d be much better off knowing about Calhoun than Mussolini, whatever your nationality.

    I find it fascinating, and suggestive, how hard people try to dodge this label on behalf of someone they don’t know

    And I find it fascinating and suggestive, how hard people try to do the equivalent of tone policing (content policing?) on behalf of someone they don’t know.

    which authorities

    If you start invoking specific authorities, people are going to evaluate them.

    Eh…the discussion from here is an eminently predictable mixture of outrage and further neepery, so I shall flounce gracefully for the exit at this point.

  10. FWIW, I wasn’t thinking of you at all. For the record, I think your postings here have been interesting and fairly well thought-out

    Ducking back for a second to apologize to Rick M. I’m sorry!

  11. My tuppence: Ng has done a fantastic job of hitting the right note at the right time and sparking a much-needed debate. This will undoubtedly be messy, and drag in unrelated political views on both sides as people see it as some sort of litmus test, but it’s clearly necessary.
    Also: Dell magazines have generously sponsored an award which has an important place in the Hugos (despite the “not-a-hugo” insistence), and there are administrators for the Campbell who do a sterling job on checking eligibility each year, and it’s not really their fault that they’ve inherited a name from 70s that is now being viewed very differently. No-one should go off half-cocked and risk them simply deciding to walk away in disgust – for the pragmatic reason that there will be a two-year gap in putting a replacement award in place.
    Instead there should be a debate, and a decision through the only democratic process available – the business meeting. If in the interim Dell decide to make a change, then all the better. If people want to contact Dell as individuals expressing an opinion, then by all means do so – but I fear that Chris Barkley’s plan to contact Dell (declared in the very first comment here) will be problematic, because of his history of rash, uncollaberative behaviour in which he has misrepresented himself as something more than just a single fan expressing an opinion (among other things I’m referring to his behaviour in contacting the UKLG estate as part of his failed attempt to rename the Lodestar)

  12. @Total, as our Aussie friends say, no worries!

    In general, I’m a lot more likely to severely annoy Filers through meta-commentary than through ideological partisanship. I indulge the former for reasons of personal cussedness, and eschew the latter because it doesn’t work.

  13. Total:

    “Both Campbell and Calhoun were Americans, and if you want to understand Campbell, you’d be much better off knowing about Calhoun than Mussolini, whatever your nationality.”

    I do not think I need to study Calhoun to understand Campbell, thank you very much. Games of “which person in history is he most alike” do not interest me.

    Mark-kitteh:

    “… for the pragmatic reason that there will be a two-year gap in putting a replacement award in place.”

    If a two year gap is necessary depends on chosen Worldcons. They are allowed to run one Hugo category of their own choice.

  14. @Chris R.

    if her writing about systems of oppression is any evidence… I’ll go with “yes” on that question

    Which is exactly how people got hoodwinked into eugenics by Campbell and some of his writers: They wrote some awful good stories about it and became “experts”.

    I find it fascinating, and suggestive…

    Of what? If you have an accusation to make, make it.

  15. @John —

    Which is exactly how people got hoodwinked into eugenics by Campbell and some of his writers:

    Err.

    I haven’t read all the comments in this thread — yet — so forgive me if this has already been said:

    Being a believer in “eugenics” was nothing unusual in the US in the early 20th century. In fact, it was all the rage. In further fact, most US states at the time had eugenics laws on their books allowing for forced sterilization of “undesirables”, whatever the local definition of undesirable happened to be. HOWEVER, “eugenics” then didn’t mean quite what it is usually taken to mean these days — that is, before the time of Hitler, it often referred more to improving the HUMAN race than to the black/brown/red/yellow/white race.

    I’m sensitive to this issue because I’ve had several arguments with Christian conservatives about the relation of Margaret Sanger to eugenics. I don’t know about Campbell in particular, but it’s entirely possible to believe in eugenics without being a racist.

  16. @Hampus

    Fair point – but that’s at the discretion of those cons, who may have other plans for their single discretionary category, and they’d have to administrate it from scratch without any experience of what the current Campbell admins do, and so on. Neither a guaranteed solution, or an ideal one.

  17. @Contrarius: I was actually thinking first of myself and how the many beautiful parts of Beyond This Horizon kept me for decades from thinking more deeply about its underlying ideas of eugenics which, as you say, are not necessarily racist, but which sure turned out damned close to it in practice.

    I re-read that sucker fairly often for both comfort reading and discomfort reading, as recently as this summer, because I’ve got tropes stuck in my head from it which won’t come out. Since they’re here to stay, I figure I need to understand how they operated on me so well as to get in there so firmly and vividly.

  18. @Total – technically correct, so the best kind of correct, yes?
    Where did I put the killfile plug in?

  19. @BravoLimaPoppa: There’s nothing wrong with liking precise language.

    If all one wants to do is suffer under a system, to bend your knee to it, I suppose it doesn’t matter exactly how that system works. If you want to chop it down, though, or keep it from sprouting, knowing which herbicide works and which doesn’t is important. That’s even truer if you want to kill it with the minimum collateral damage.

  20. Rick Moen:

    “I was merely drawing a distinction between the 1930s-1940s concept when the term had a reasonably specific (if somewhat problematic) meaning, and recent decades when it’s been used without any hope of a standard definition.”

    I do not agree with there having been a specific meaning even then. As an example, the Swedish Fascist Peoples Party, started 1926, gradually changed ideology until they went full nazi in 1929. There were a lot of splinter groups with ideologies going in all directions on a Pythonesque level. The Swedish Fascist Struggle Organization, The Swedish Socialist Society/The Nazi Workers Party, The Newswedish Peoples Society… And then we have The New Sweden, The Swedish National Society, The Newswedish Movement… And so on.

    People moved between the organizations, often depending on loyalty to different persons. Sometimes they called their movements fascist, sometimes nazi. Ideology changed depending on what they thought people wanted to hear that month or what they had heard on the radio.

    So no. Not even then did fascism have a specific meaning or a standard definition.

  21. @Total: ” I’m having a hard reconciling a Mussolini who thought trade unionists should vote with a Campbell who wanted to limit it to the upper 20% by income. ”

    On the other side of the spectrum not too many people seem to have any trouble calling Leninists, Maoists, Hoxhaists, etc all ‘Communist’, I don’t see any good reason to be “No True Fascist” about Campbell.

  22. @Hampus: At the risk of seeming mulish on this point, the fact that, even in the pre-WWII period, many people used the word ‘fascist’ loosely and for partisan reasons in no way prevented it from having a ‘reasonably specific (if somewhat problematic) meaning’. (Note that your version of my phrase, as ‘specific meaning’, inadvertently sucked a lot of nuance out of the way I phrased that, upthread.)

    I grew up immersed in my parents’ (WWII-era) culture (if only because my fellow Boomers were bloody boring), and learned the politics of that era from them, including that bit. Lots of stories about the nightmare of a visit to Franco’s Spain, for example.

    Anyway, as mentioned, I’m really not interested in flogging this fine point further, so perhaps we should (please) let it go. Tack så mycket.

  23. For what it’s worth, I took the “sterile – white – male” reference to be short for “limited to white men, and therefore missing the beautiful variety of humanity”. In other words, it’s not anti-white men, it’s anti-exclusion.

  24. @Mark, Hampus
    Since the JWC is “not-a-Hugo”, why does the ability of a worldcon to award a single special Hugo have anything to do with it?
    If Dell pulls the JWC tomorrow, next year’s worldcon can award any “Best New Writer” award it wants to. Or not.

    And if Dell doesn’t change anything, and if the next worldcon finds administration of an award with that name to be odious, it could certainly argue that “We are required to administer the Hugo Awards. The JWC is not a Hugo, so we won’t administer it.” (although the constitution does have language about accepting nominations for the JWC, and putting those nominees on the ballot).

  25. Change the Campbell to the Protostar Award, since it honors people whose artistic careers are just beginning to form.

    Change the Hugo to the Mary (after Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), because she was the mother of science fiction and Hugo Gernsback ripped off writers.

    And congratulations to Jeanette for a well-deserved award and a speech made of fire.

  26. Bill:

    Because the most likely alternative to letting Dell handle out Campbells at the ceremony is to instead hand out a Hugo for the same purpose. But that change would take two years to implement.

  27. I have a few thoughts on this topic. My first comment is that I really think we need to think about these comments in terms of genre. Jeannette Ng was given something around 90 seconds to express her thoughts. The topic we’re taking on isn’t even really the main concern of the talk. Within that context, its understandable that the short hand was used. It’s recognizable short hand for the kinds of racist and authoritarian politics that were expressed by Campbell.

    In the larger context, I’m often adverse to using the term fascist to describe individuals such as Campbell, but that’s less out of a concern that the word somehow slanders someone like Campbell and more out of a concern that the United States often attempts to minimize its history of white supremacy and racism as well as some of the deeply authoritarian strains in US thought by offshoring it on fascism. I could take a long time on this one, but it should be noted that Nazi jurists looked to the United States to construct its laws on race and intellectual and political threads that formed fascist political organizations just as deeply shaped threads in the United States. In that sense, Calhoun and the tradition he represents in US history probably is better antecedent to Campbell, but that history overlaps with the histories of fascism more than we often recognize. (That takes the form of intellectual ideas like Eugenics or the form of violent paramilitaries and racialized violence.) It’s a complex history that would probably take a historian a significant amount of time to disentangle.

    A last side note: Whatever Mussolini claimed in his written work, the fascist movement got its start by violently suppressing strikes as a paramilitary force. The NSDAP banned independent trade unions. (We can even put the US in this picture by noting that the KKK was deeply anti-labor.) We shouldn’t ignore this anti-labor history of fascism.

  28. So if Dell drops the JWC, WSFS can establish a new “Best New Writer” Hugo, and in the intervening years worldcons can award “Best New Writer” awards, either as special Hugos, or as awards not at all associated with the Hugos.

    If Dell renames the JWC (which I doubt they would), it would be prudent for the WSFS to amend the constitution to accommodate the name change, but in the intervening two years, the worldcons could continue to administer the renamed award.

    And if Dell doesn’t do anything, as I outline above, worldcons could either administer it, or not, as they see fit. (If the controversy attracted by Campbell’s name continues to fester, I’d suggest that they administer the award but pretend in documents and ceremonies that it is called the Dell Best New Writer award in the short term, and in the long term [2+ years], amend the constitution to set up a BNW Hugo.)

  29. I’m glad Ms. Ng gave us some context, both historical and current, about the award’s namesake. As a former social studies teacher, I do believe in knowing all the facts and then making up your own mind about a historical figure, even if it takes the shine off them.
    On that note, I watched an odd little cartoon called “Howard Lovecraft and the Kingdom of Madness” (cute Cthullu, power of friendship, end of the world, etc.) in which a young H.P. Lovecraft said he intended to continue writing, and my brain added, ‘and being a racist.’ That truth about Lovecraft added a whole new dimension to the cartoon, though probably not one the creators wanted.
    Also, I’m beginning to appreciate why developers name subdivisions things like ‘Shady Oaks’ and ‘Riverview,’ even though they have neither oaks nor rivers. Bland lasts.

  30. @Xtifr

    Could always rename it for Joseph Campbell

    Winner gets a lifetime supply of soup!

  31. @microtherion

    No, no . . . the Joesph Campbell Award goes to the author whose work has the best protagonist who follows the Hero’s Journey step-by-step with complete predictability.

    The award is a silver rocket with no base. Upon receiving the award, the winner’s editor appears and tells the author that he must make his own base to complete his journey, with the aid of an artist he will find somewhere in the Dealer’s Room.

    I’m tired and I’m leaving for Burning Man in the morning. My brain is getting odd.

  32. Does anyone affiliated with Penny Publications (parent company of Dell Magazines) have anything to do with the award or Worldcon? I’m curious whether there’s a relationship here beyond the award being administered by WSFS on behalf of Dell.

    Dell also sets the rules for administering the award, such as for eligibility. These were last changed in 2005.

  33. No surprise, there’s a long discussion about Ng’s comments over on another blog.

    One poster was curious about the following mirror-image of Ng’s comments, and whether they would be seen as racist. Anyone want to opine?

    The statement in question:

    What if someone said, “Octavia Butler was an Afrofuturist. She set a tone in science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Female. Black.” What would you think? Is it racist or not?

  34. @Contrarius–Oh, please.

    Octavia Butler was not the editor of a major sf magazine when the magazines were the main way sf got published–nor did she ever occupy a position of even vaguely analogous power in the genre. Nor do black women, or blacks, or women, occupy the cultural position of power and privilege that white men occupy.

    So, yes, that “mirror-image” comment would be racist, and no, that doesn’t mean that Ng’s statement is racist, because Campbell actually did quite effectively promote exclusion rather than inclusion, while Butler merely promoted, from a position of far less real power inclusion of the people Campbell excluded.

  35. Lis said everything that needed to be said. It would be pointless to spend more time on a troll comment.

  36. Thanks for your sustained effort on this, Hampus.

    The thing that strikes me about this is how hard it is to make it a controversy. No one can deny Campbell’s racist, eugenicist, anti-democratic views, or the influence he had on the writers he published, so we’re into quibbling about precise definitions of fascism… and the trouble with fascism, to borrow a line from Saki, is that it has well-defined limits that are not always in the same place.

  37. @Sophie Jane: I think the controversy in this discussion here is about how to describe why Campbell’s name ought not to be on that award. That it ought not is mostly given. A couple of us hesitate because he was so good at finding and nurturing new talent, which is what the award is about.

    But I see that, in writing that paragraph, I said “that award” and “the award”. Even though I get why his editorial abilities got his name on the award, I’m already having trouble putting it there when discussing it, even when it would make the sentence slightly easier to understand. I consciously avoided calling it “the Campbell award”.

    In my own mind at least, I think the change has come.

  38. @John A Arkansawyer A couple of us hesitate because he was so good at finding and nurturing new talent, which is what the award is about.

    And it’s hard to find alternatives because the whole field of writing and publishing is less nurturing, now, but also less dominated by a few influential editors(*). Zen Cho’s thanks to her fanfic-writing circle in her acceptance speech – or Laurie Penny’s in that article linked a few days ago – seem more relevant now.

    (*) Arguably, anyway. I’m aware the same few editors and publishers keep appearing in the Hugo awards.

  39. I think a bunch of people here are falling for the etymological fallacy. John C. Calhoun was a fascist.

    The fact that the word “fascist” originates in late 1910s Italy is not determinative of its present meaning.

  40. @Contrarius, there is a very profound difference. The difference is power. The difference is the distinction between “punching up” and “punching down.”

    It’s the difference between “comfort the afflicted” and “afflict the comfortable”.

    In other words, what Lis said.

  41. For the record (FWIW), I am not seeing why the ‘mirror image’ comment ought to be deemed racist, merely obviously delusional and profoundly silly ‘whataboutism’ that is at odds with reality.

    In general, IMO it’s usually sufficient to note that a speaker’s claim has turned out not to be the case (to use the line from The Mote in God’s Eye), without also needing to proceed to impugn the speaker’s motives or character.

  42. @Rick Moen–Because it is a claim, like impugning the loyalty of Jewish Americans who don’t vote Republican because voting Democratic is “anti-Israel,” that is essentially never made in good faith. It comes from the kind of people who insist that calling anyone out on their racism is the real racism.

    And there has been a great deal of this crap, starting at the very latest at the point where Obama’s candidacy n 2008 became a really serious factor. Past a certain point, one stops wondering if this particular idiot offering the latest version of the pretense that the positions of black and white in society are similar enough that working to protect the rights and opportunities of blacks qua blacks, working to protect the rights and opportunities of whites qua whites, are at all equivalent, is doing so from a good-faith disconnection from reality. No. All experience, research, intelligent observation says no, really, this latest one is just another dumb, malicious racist, too.

    I’m not going to tie myself in knots trying to find evidence they’re somehow not exactly what they sound like, and I’m certainly not going to blindly make the assumption that they’re not exactly what they sound like.

  43. @Lis, at first glance (and I haven’t yet had my morning coffee, so I might be missing something), your comparison to the infamous divided-loyalty charge against Jews seems inapt: That one is racist because it entails a (phony) essentialist trait to the target group.[1] I am currently (see coffee factor) seeing that the (silly, factually incorrect, fake-equivalency-aiming) ‘mirror image’ comment does that at all. It merely makes a delusional factual claim about the late Octavia Butler, for lame and transparent polemical reasons.

    If said comment were made seriously in real conversation, the rational response would simply be ‘You’re hallucinating, man. Or you’re from some weird alternate reality where a tone of Afrofuturism, sterility of imagination, and overwhelming domination by black and female figures has haunted science fiction because of Octavia Butler’s overwhelming industry power as a… um… Clarion instructor, ever since.’

    I’m also not clear on why it’s incumbent on Filers to classify arbitrary imaginary claims as racist or not just because some yoyo on another site conjures them up, in the first place.

    [1] Completely aside from that, and from the obvious malign intent in floating that accusation of being inherently foreign and disloyal, it also always struck me as wilfully clueless: Everyone has divided loyalties. Yr. humble correspondent is a veritable small sea of divided loyalties, including to foreign places and entities. It’s called ‘living’. (Aside: The president of my college, and later of the USA, said about hyphenated American ethnicity: ‘Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.’ Well, screw you, Wilson. Signed, Mr. hyphen.)

  44. @Lis and @Cassy and @Rick —

    I absolutely agree with what you two say about the power differentials, but I think the difference between the two statements is even greater than that. For instance, “Afrofuturist” is not a derogatory term in the first place — so there is not even any criticism going on in the Butler version. “Afrofuturist” and “fascist” are neither similar terms nor opposites, so there is no valid comparison between the two examples.

    But, as I’ve been arguing over on that other board, I don’t think Ng’s original statement is at all racist either, or has any of the other characteristics Engholm has claimed. It says nothing about either white people or men as a class, nor does it direct attacks towards them. It criticizes Campbell only — and you can’t intimidate or harass a dead man. So Engholm’s complaint is ridiculous.

    Anyway — thanks again for your comments!

    P.S. And also what Rick said — he ninja’d me while I was writing this!

  45. Whenever I return to this item I think of the Andre Norton title, “Storm Over Warlock”.

  46. Er, Lis, I belatedly (coffee deficiency at work) saw that you weren’t citing by comparison the historically-infamous variant of the disloyalty charge, but rather the even weirder and crazier one that the increasingly senile Toddler-in-Chief floated, quite surreally, while we were in Ireland. But my point about essentialism applies there, too. (It’s entirely possible we just have slightly different usage of the term in question, which is fine by me, of course.)

  47. @Contrarius: Engholm? Would that be Ahrvid Engholm? The same asshat who is trying to float the curious theory that Ms. Ng committed a Code of Conduct violation by molesting a ghost? Ah, much is now clear.

    I am mortified on behalf of Swedish fandom that they have Ahrvid among their number, but we all have our burdens to bear. (Those who follow Ansible will recognise that he’s been conducting himself like a major, er, paskudnyak for decades.)

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