Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SFWA Politics--Why I Signed the Petition

I generally make it a point to avoid politics because discussions of hot-button issues often degenerate into anger and name-calling, and ultimately no one really changes anyone's mind.  In these polarized times, a writer risks alienating half his audience by coming out in support of a particular liberal or conservative view.  I'm not saying that writers should never discuss their personal politics, by any means.  Brad Torgersen is quite vocal about his right-leaning politics, Juliette Wade often speaks her mind about left-leaning causes, and I consider both to be my friend.  I admire both for their passion for their core beliefs.  But political activity is not the right approach for me, and I apply that philosophy to both national politics and the internal politics of SFWA.

So why did I sign Dave Truesdale's petition?  For those not tuned into SFWA politics, the organization puts out a publication called The Bulletin.  A while back, a particular issue of The Bulletin was considered degrading toward women because of two things--the cover image of a scantily clad woman reminiscent of old pulp covers, and an article by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg referring to a particular female editor as beautiful.  I didn't think anything of the issue when I read it, but others did and were outraged.  The resulting kerfluffle led to the ouster of Resnick, Malzberg, and the editor of The Bulletin.  SFWA suspended the publication and is in the process of revamping it, this time with an "advisory panel" that many think will become a de facto censorship panel that will eliminate any ideas that are not in line with the "correct" way of thinking.  Dave Truesdale posted a petition asking Steven Gould, president of SFWA, to reconsider the perceived censorship of The Bulletin.  As expected, people came out with strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Personally, I'd prefer SFWA to focus it's energies on the business of writing itself and stay away from politics.  Writers are an intelligent, creative, and opinionated lot, though, and so political activism will always be with us.  But at the moment, one side of the political spectrum holds the vast majority of the power within the organization and that is the kind of situation where we all need to be most vigilant.  If we can't keep politics out, at least we can allow publications like The Bulletin to be a forum for a variety of opinions.  I see the potential for a highly vocal faction, perhaps a rather large faction, to silence any dissent.  Already, quite a few members with opposing politics have elected to let their memberships lapse, and that's sad.  SFWA is a wonderful organization and should be a comfortable place for all professional writers, not just those who hold the majority opinion.

Was the cover of The Bulletin offensive?  Were Resnick's and Malzberg's comments misogynistic?  I didn't think so when I read the issue, and I still fail to see the offense.  But others did take offense, and their opinion is valid too.  Rather than fire two of the genre's greats in response to that offense, it would have been better to invite those who were offended to submit articles putting their point of view out there.  The Bulletin could have become a forum for the issue, allowing both sides to defend their positions, and letting the readers decide who is right.  The editor's role would be to act as a neutral referee of sorts, selecting the best articles on all sides of important issues.  I'm not calling for a free-for-all as some on the other side of the issue have suggested; I'm saying trust the editor to select articles that tastefully present their point of view without name-calling or the like.  Yeah, there would be plenty of judgement calls, but that's what editors do all the time.  It's  a matter of intellectual freedom, and a panel of overseers just strikes me as a move in the wrong direction.

Note that I'm not saying that people don't have the right to be offended by the Resnick/Malzberg article; I'm saying that Resnick and Malzberg have the right to offend them.  Whether their attitudes toward women were right or wrong  is not the issue here.  Their speech was unpopular, and unpopular speech is the most important kind to defend.  And writers, of all people, should agree on that.


  1. I haven’t read the article, so I can’t be sure I agree, but I do have grammatical nits about this and “Book Signing”:
    • “I'd prefer SFWA to focus it's energies”
    • “He took Emily and I”

    More generally, keep up the good work; I like the Niven influence. So far I found your story in the 1000th Analog/Astounding the highlight of the issue, and also liked the two stories published on Escape Pod (except, of course, for a typographical nit: blank lines between paragraphs, rather than proper indentation).

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I have no excuse for the it's / its thing other than posting in haste. Every so often I catch something like that and cringe. You'd think a professional writer would be above those kinds of typos!

    I grew up idolizing Niven; he has had a profound influence on my writing and on my decision to pursue the sciences. I'm glad you liked "Ships in the Night." I'll have another story in Analog in the coming months (and more on Trevor's desk!) as well as a couple of stories in upcoming anthologies. A writer's work is never done!