Anonymous Blog’s Rankings Draw Protest By Hugo Finalist Short Fiction Editor

Cartoon by Teddy Harvia

When the Hugo voting deadline closes in a lot of bloggers write posts about how they’re filling out their Hugo ballots. It’s some of the most-read material they’ll put out all year.

The SF Insiders began publishing in June, produced by an anonymous “small group of writers who’ve known each other for years”, and most of their posts so far have been about the Hugos, Lodestar or Astounding Awards given at the Worldcon.

Their second post appeared on June 20, “Blogging the Hugos #1 – Editor Short Form”, where they say “With one exception, six of us independently ranked the six finalists in the same order”. Assigned last place was —

6. Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Ekpeki is a promising new editor and first-time finalist (and writer-finalist in novelette), but his only work for 2021 was The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction, a reprint anthology showcasing the work of other editors. There is some merit to assembling a reprint anthology, particularly one that shines a light on another part of the world, but all the other editors contributed original fiction they selected and edited.

Jason Sanford tweeted on August 5 that he regards this as a “smear”.

The SF Insiders decided they were being accused of racism: “Being Seen Again”.

…Someone decided they disagreed with the criteria we used for editor short form and, in true Twitter fashion, decided to make insinuations about our character to promote their own choice, which happened to be our last. In short, a white man called us racist….

While the tweets must stand on their own, Jason Sanford, responding to a question from File 770, said these were his reasons for speaking out: “Just saw the post being passed around and discussed in the genre community and figured I’d add my view. In addition, Ekpeki did a ton of hard work to create the first Year’s Best anthology focused on African speculative fiction, and faced obstacles many editors from the USA and Europe don’t have to deal with. So for that groundbreaking work to be dismissed with as merely ‘a reprint anthology’ really rubbed me the wrong way.” 

And in their “Editor Short Form” post the SF Insiders had not been reluctant to compliment the work of a Black American-born editor:

3. Sheree Renée Thomas

Thomas started as editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2021 and has previously edited anthologies. Her first year was a step up for the magazine, but a transition year is bound to be a bit uneven and that’s how it felt to us. This is where we had some disagreement. One of us ranked her as #2 simply based on the difficulty of such transitions and how well she’s handled it. All of us have high expectations for the magazine under her leadership.

There still remains the issue of the SF Insiders‘ given reason for ranking Ekpeki last, that in their view assembling a reprint anthology is less worthy of being recognized than editing original short fiction.

Hugo finalist Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki was incensed by this idea and wrote a 3,000-word Facebook post to dispute it. The full text is at the link. A couple of his key points are:

My “only” work was a reprint anthology “showcasing the work of other editors”. All the other editors contributed original fiction they “edited & selected”.

Essentially saying that I didn’t do enough. What I did do, was no work, or not my work. & finally, not really editing.

Do they realize that this discredits the work of respected icons in the SFF editing world? People like Gardner Dozois, Jonathan Strahan Neil Clark, Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, & many more who also do reprints & Year’s Bests? It discredits their work. & what is a valid component of anthologies, editing and the genre itself, just to remove from the value of my work. On the other hand, I haven’t heard anyone refer to those other Year’s Best anthologies as showcasing the work of other editors. So what’s different btw me & them?

So that mine is “showcasing the work of other editors?” That’s what reprints & Year’s Best anthologies boil down to now someone’s done the first Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction anthology? Strange And I really really really want to disagree. Strongly but hopefully, coherently. I get that reviewers have to do their thing thing, and we should leave them alone and all that. But all things have limits & exceptions as my fellow Law students who went on to practice will tell you. This isn’t reviewing, so much as redefining.

If you say my compilation is bad, the works I choose don’t work, I have no Introduction, all of which has been mentioned in different tones going from positive inquiry to not so positive, I wouldn’t have made a fuss. But this is redefining what editing work is. And I have to disagree and make known my disagreement, strongly. Because not doing so would be agreeing with this faulty, problematic and dismissive, not to mention undermining, if not sabotaging definition. By editing the Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction anthology I did not “showcase” the works of other editors. The works were created by writers, not editors. That’s the first thing. Editing is its own work of selection and compilation you do whether for originals or reprints. It’s the same thing irrespective of the state of the works.

…So when you say it showcases the work of other editors, you miss the fine point of this. Is it any more rigorous reading an original work than reading a reprint? Are the words easier or harder to read? I don’t get how it’s less work or entirely the original editor’s work.

Does energy leave them every time the work is reprinted so that the reprinting editor loses nothing? Like doesn’t incur costs, charges, spend time, energy, etc? Is all that billable to the original editors so that the reprint merely “showcases” it?

…We need to work on the quality of our allyship in the genre space. Esp white, male, older writers. Generally anyone with a level of privilege. I wish we were more careful about the kind of things we give oxygen to, and unwittingly support. A bit more responsible allyship. Things like not putting out or boosting things that denigrate marginalized people or members of a minority class, vulnerable people. The people we claim to and even actually support in the community. It’s undoing and making nonsense of that work. If you are an authority in the industry, your acquiescence or even silence emboldens or ratifies these people. Is taken as approval. If you can stand by now and watch a member of a minority group be bashed, what says you won’t do the same when it’s a physical lynching?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen reasonable, responsible, kind, cool people we all like posting or sharing or boosting things that deliberately and obviously denigrate or demean me & other marginalized people in a racial or other marginalizing and bigoted way. Society, systems are a makeup of all of us. The way that you are and how you receive issues, react to, respond or don’t respond to them contributes to the society or system we have. So you have to ask yourself what kind of society or system your action or inaction is creating. Not just continue criticizing a system you prop up or contribute unwittingly to creating or sustaining. I am no stranger to criticism. You’ll be surprised the kind of things I’ve heard or had said to and about me. The majority of which I don’t share with anyone because it would make my feed very unpalatable….

Ekpeki has merged a defense of his work as a reprint editor with a counterattack on anyone who “demean[s] me & other marginalized people in a racial or other marginalizing and bigoted way” which indicates what he thinks are the motivations of the SF Insiders.

The SF Insiders wrote a response to Jason Sanford’s tweets (“Being Seen Again”), probably before Ekpeki’s Facebook post went live, for they tried to create division between the editor and his ally:

If the editor in question happens to be reading this, please know we enjoyed your anthology. Congratulations on your nomination! Your supporter, while admirably passionate about your work is, however, misguided and causing harm. We hope you don’t sanction such things. (That’s a criteria too.)

The mysterious SF Insiders like to agitate but sound offended when the inevitable pushback arrives. And while Ekpeki’s work should be respected and he is entitled to be proud of being a Hugo finalist, unleashing a three-thousand-word thunderbolt against a group of anonymous bloggers anoints them with a level of prestige they did not previously have.