The Science Fiction Writers of America have another struggle brewing — the pus-oozing abscess called Vox Day is soiling their garments again. He has a novella, Opera Vita Aeterna, which was was nominated for a Hugo award. It’s not very good. I did read it — Day has made it freely available — and I was unimpressed.
Basically, it’s a vignette. An elf joins a monastery, spends years making an illuminated manuscript, and later all the people are killed by goblins, and only the manuscript remains. Why an elf? I don’t know. His only distinguishing characteristics seem to be pointy ears, and repeated mentions that he lacks a soul…an attribute not in evidence in any of the characters. Why goblins? I don’t know. Conveniently evil and dismissable monsters, I guess. Why a monastery? I’m thinking it was an excuse to not have to write about any woman characters, and so all the men could be bland emotionless ciphers. Every character in the story is indistinguishable and forgettable — even the one who is supposed to be unique and special.
So it contained none of Day’s usual openly malicious bigotry, and it was just kind of a ho-hum story without much of a point. I suspect all the Vox Day fans who nominated it were also aware of that fact, that it was possibly the most innocuous thing he has written, therefore it was a safe bet to push it, because then they’d be able to whine that it was all leftist anti-Day politics behind any objection, and that it would be unfair to bring up all the misogynistic, racist bullshit that Theodore Beale has written elsewhere.
And it’s working. Lots of people, like John Scalzi, say that “the Hugo rules don’t say that a racist, sexist, homophobic dipshit can’t be nominated for a Hugo”, which is entirely true. You’re supposed to judge the work, not the author, which is also a fair point (although, really, Opera Vita Aeterna is mundane and boring, and like most science fiction stories, doesn’t deserve some special award) (no, I’m not dissing SF — I’m a fan. Sturgeon’s Law!). But still, this attitude bothers me. Are we really supposed to regard every work of art as some disembodied, isolated fragment, bearing no connection to the creator, like some alien entity in which all that matters is what the perceiver makes of it? It seems to me that falling back on a literal interpretation of the rules (or lack of relevance thereof) is very much an act of interpretation as well, and that what we are doing is making a specific kind of choice under the pretext that we are not free to choose.
I would like to thank John C. Wright for helping me crystallize my views on this subject, though. Wright is a science fiction writer (I’ve never read anything by him) who was recently annoyed by all the shenanigans — not that there were any, Day’s story was nominated and accepted — over Vox Day’s story, and so he announced that he was quitting the SFWA.
It was out of loyalty to this mission that I so eagerly joined SFWA immediately upon my first professional sales, and the reason why I was so proud to associate with the luminaries and bold trailblazers in a genre I thought we all loved.
When SFWA first departed from that mission, I continued for a time to hope the change was not permanent. Recent events have made it clear that there is not reasonable basis for that hope.
Instead of enhancing the prestige of the genre, the leadership seems bent on holding us up to the jeers of all fair-minded men by behaving as gossips, whiners, and petty totalitarians, and by supporting a political agenda irrelevant to science fiction.
As is made clear in the whole article, the
political agenda he finds disagreeable is one where the SFWA takes a stand against homophobia, sexism, and racism. This is a political departure from the mission of SFWA, he says, which is purely to support aspiring writers of genre fiction.
Because, when one of their members writes something like this…
Because raising girls with the expectation that their purpose in life is to bear children allows them to pursue marriage at the age of their peak fertility, increase the wage rates of their prospective marital partners, and live in stable, low-crime, homogenous societies that are not demographically dying. It also grants them privileged status, as they alone are able to ensure the continued survival of the society and the species alike. Women are not needed in any profession or occupation except that of child-bearer and child-rearer, and even in the case of the latter, they are only superior, they are not absolutely required.
…the appropriate, non-political response is to close your eyes and pretend it didn’t happen. There is this bizarre idea that ignoring far right wing poison is non-political and the only acceptable reaction from someone who disagrees is silence.
I’m sorry, but that is wrong. It’s the political ratchet that has been peddled for so long and with such dumb certainty that it has become accepted wisdom. Standing by quietly while the Right dominates the discourse and takes it for granted that their medieval views are the accepted wisdom is a deeply political act. It is the politics of accommodation, the politics of surrender, the politics of collaboration.
There is no way around it: whether you protest or you acquiesce, either act is a political act. The great lie the right wing has successfully promulgated is that surrender is apolitical.
I think we should rage against the nomination of Theodore Beale. It doesn’t mean we march on his home and tar and feather him: it means that we spread the word that he is an odious, horrible little racist/misogynist, and that everyone should know it, and recognize that voting for him is most definitely a political act that places you on the side of a right-wing thug…and of course, not voting for him is a political act that pits you against him. Everything is political. Don’t accept the lie that something is not, especially when right-wingers are arguing so fervently for a state of apathy.
This is also my problem with the state of the atheism movement. Somehow, silence on issues like feminism, abortion rights, and gay marriage are pushed by some as the only acceptable non-political response — anything but neglect of the issues is “mission creep” and is to be deplored. I’m afraid though, that if you don’t take a stand, you are taking a stand — on the wrong side of those subjects.
By the way, another kicker in Mr Wright’s resignation letter was the very next sentence after the quoted bit above.
Instead of men who treat each other with professionalism and respect, I find a mob of perpetually outraged gray-haired juveniles.
I leave it for the astute reader to puzzle out the revealing, and eminently political, assumption in that sentence.
Also worth reading: a lot of people have also been pushing back against Beale. Scalzi has highlighted a few of those responses:
Read those, too.