NK Jemisin wins, so the haters gotta hate

NK Jemisin won another Hugo award this year — her third in a row — and she gave a powerful acceptance speech. Read the whole thing, but this was a notable piece.

But this is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers—every single mediocre insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, that when they win it it’s meritocracy but when we win it it’s “identity politics” — I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining, rocket-shaped middle finger in their direction.

Exactly right. The most fervent practitioners of identity politics are the old white guys who feel their entitlements are being challenged.

Here’s another excerpt:

I have gritted my teeth while an established professional writer went on a ten-minute tirade at me—as a proxy for basically all black people—for mentioning underrepresentation in the sciences.

I’m not sure who that was, but I know there’s no shortage of racists ranting about “identity politics”, so the field is wide open on that one. I thought immediately of Vox Day, though, who called her an educated, but ignorant half-savage and has long been whining about all the SJWs in science fiction.

So I had to go look and see how Vox Day was taking this repudiation of his position and the ongoing defeat of his slate of “puppies”. Not well, I’m afraid. He’s plumbing deep wells of dishonesty now. You see, that a group of people he detests are winning all the rewards and recognition means the he thinks he has won — after all, giving an award to a half-savage means the Hugos have now self-destructed and there’s nothing left but a great big crater. And even better, he thinks he has nuked the Hugos for the past three years now.

It’s a thriving crater populated with new and interesting writers, but he’s not going to read any of them anyway.

But what most appalled me is that he quotes the full text of Jemisin’s speech…but removes all of the punctuation and paragraphs, and then sneers mockingly at it. The comments are full of people thinking that Jemisin is illiterate because of that intentional dishonesty, and whining about how women can’t write.

That’s the kind of poison I’d expect of a hack like Vox Day, but what really disappoints me is that he quotes Robert Silverberg.

But in her graceless and vulgar acceptance speech last night, she insisted that she had not won because of ‘identity politics,’ and proceeded to disprove her own point by rehearsing the grievances of her people and describing her latest Hugo as a middle finger aimed at all those who had created those grievances.

He says “her people” and “identity politics”, not noting his own hypocrisy, and bashes her for vulgarity.

You might want to read these reviews of Silverberg’s own book, Up the Line.

Robert Silverberg wrote this libidinous, vulgar carnival ride in 1969 and it was nominated for the Hugo Award. This represents my 25th Silverberg work reviewed and I have come to accept that his lasciviousness makes late era Heinlein look like a boy scout. There is just going to be sex in a Silverberg work, lots of it, and this one has all the sensitivity of a bawdy limerick, reminiscent of Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love and All You Zombies – readers of those books will instantly know what I’m talking about.

Robert Silverberg was clearly a big fan of sex back in the late 1960s, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. But in Up the Line, he absolutely revels in it. He doesn’t miss a chance for his (all male) characters to fornicate with women at every possible opportunity both in the future and the past, in dozens of exotic time periods in Byzantium, Constantinople, Rome, etc. The act may be as old as time, but that doesn’t stop Time Courier Judd Elliot from trying to bed his great-great-great grandmother Pulcharia with a lusty enthusiasm and complete disregard for all social taboos that have existed for millenia. Sure, it’s generally a serious no-no in society to screw your ancestors, but when she is as saucy a sex-kitten as Pulcharia, well who can blame Judd? At least that is the irreverent tone this book tries to achieve, billing its main character as the “Tom Jones of Time Travel”.

So when did 83-year-old Silverberg become a hypocritical prissy prude? I’ve read lots of Silverberg, and it’s absurd for him to look at Jemisin’s speech and complain about “graceless and vulgar”. He’s written much more vulgar stuff — and what’s really got him upset is that a black woman was bold and critical.


  1. aziraphale says

    I did not know about Vox Day’s “educated, but ignorant half-savage” comment.
    I think if I had said that I would now be keeping a very low profile and hoping it would be forgotten.

  2. Siobhan says

    Complaints about “minorities talking about their grievances” are identity politics for mediocre cishet white men.

  3. rcs619 says

    Vox Day is the absolute worst. Racist, sexist, and a religious extremist, he’s truly the trifecta of a shitty person. This is the same guy who once defended the act of throwing acid in the face of an unfaithful wife, back when that was in the news.

    On the bright side, there really is a lot of good sci-fi out there right now, and I feel like most of the people flipping their shit about the Hugos just need to go and curl up with a good book. Whether you want military sci-fi, transhumanism, big ideas, pulpy adventure, there’s a lot out there and a lot of it is good.

    People just, need to enjoy their own thing and stop trying to fight some dumb culture war with other people who like different things.

  4. petesh says

    I want nothing to do with anyone who was not moved by that little speech. It was charming, honest and insightful. I was tempted to comment at the voxday site but I’m not going to hang around there and argue, life’s too short.

  5. specialffrog says

    The Broken Earth trilogy is really great. I re-read the first two after finishing the third and the whole series just works from beginning to end.

  6. F.O. says

    The first two Broken Earth books were great, and I look forward to read The Stone Sky.
    N.K. Jemisin is a masterful writer and fully deserved the awards.

  7. chrislawson says

    GAMERGATER SF FANBOIS (repeat daily for years): Grr! Hate! Anonymail her with racial pejoratives! Destroy her career! Hijack the Hugos so people like her can’t win! Kill her! Rape her!

    JEMISIN: This award is a middle finger to the racists and sexists who made my life so unpleasant.

    SILVERBERG: How dare Jemisin say something so graceless and vulgar!

    (My opinion? Silverberg recognised some part of his worldview in her criticisms and didn’t like it one bit.)

  8. says

    If Vox Day could write, on his best day, as well as NK Jemisin writes her grocery list on her worst day, then he’d be like Scalzi: “Oh, it’d be nice if I won another Hugo but I don’t expect to because there are better writers nominated…”

    Vox’s problem is he’s not as cool as Scalzi or as good a writer as Jemisin. Actually, that’s the beginning of a list of problems but those two are sufficient.

  9. says

    I loved the “unexpected consequence” of writing her acceptance speech on her smart phone and getting a denial of service text attack from her friends. She was passionate and funny and she’s a great writer.

  10. jrkrideau says

    I had never heard of N. K Jemisin before. It was a great speech and I loved the ending. A quick check says the local library has 13 of her books (the complete oeuvre?).

    Of course, I had never heard of Vox Day either and could have gone on in ignorance. He is something we, in the country, used to have boot scrappers for.

  11. whheydt says

    Sigh… This makes me sad that Poul Anderson is no longer with us. He kept all his awards on a shelf in his office, which was a back bedroom of his house. At least until he won his 5th Hugo and some of us persuaded him to bring the collection into the living and put them on the mantle and declared him an “ace” for “shooting down five spaceships.”

    When asked if he’d won some award or other, he would pause a moment, and then say, “Oh, that. Yes.” Never mentioning that it was likely that he’d won several of them.

  12. michaelwbusch says

    @jrkrideau @11:

    Jemisin has published 8 novels so far, in three independent series: The Inheritance Trilogy, the two Dreamblood books, and The Broken Earth trilogy for which she’s won the last three best-novel Hugos. There’s also omnibus printings of the first two sets of books, and her various short stories & nonfiction pieces.

    She’s also releasing a new short story collection in November.

  13. mowmow says

    Not sure if it makes much a difference, but she didn’t say it was a middle finger. Just a massive, shining, rocket shaped finger.

  14. robro says

    Wikipedia’s “In the news” desktop front page section had led with Jemisin’s Hugo Award since yesterday, followed by Kofi Annan’s passing. Oddly nothing about very important white men who get in trouble for behaving badly. How refreshing.

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    Hey, “All You Zombies” is at least clever and its plot demanded those sexual escapades (though that Women’s Hospitality Order for Restoring and Encouraging Spacemen, even by 1959 standards, shoulda got the blue pencil).

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    Oh, and Silverberg’s relentless Zionism particularly disqualifies him from disparaging “identity politics” like that.

  17. methuseus says

    Thank you, PZ, for introducing me to NK Jemisin. I have, thus far, only read one of her books, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (mainly because her newer books had a months’-long waiting list at the library, and I’m a bit cheap). I enjoyed it and thought it was very good. I need to get back to reading more and reading the news less, though still some.

    NK Jemisin may not be the best writer ever. I’m not qualified to make that assessment. See above about not reading lately. She may not be the most prolific writer. She is definitely a good writer who deserves her awards.

    Vox Day and his cohort are not good writers. I tried reading at least one of Day’s stories, but could not in the end. I don’t remember what put me off of his writing so badly, especially as I’ve enjoyed some pretty objectively bad books in the past. Why does he think he deserves the award more than someone else? Hell, I barely finished reading The Three Body Problem because certain parts of the book were a real slog for me. I wouldn’t have thought it would win an award, but it did. If I’d read Scalzi’s or Leckie’s books, I may have enjoyed them more (probably not) than The Stone Sky, but the award going to her wouldn’t have made me upset. If I’d been in the running, I would have been disappointed, but, as Scalzi said (paraphrase), it would be nice to win, but better writes were nominated.

    Oh, and all politics are “identity politics” if you hinge your identity on any infinitesimal part of it. Say, how Fox News and many Republicans (and some Democrats) like my aunts and uncles do. Giving the best writer a specific award is not identity politics because she was agreed on as the best; an old white man did not win just because of recognition of his “status” which actually means nothing.

    @cubist: why is it surprising Silverberg said something like that? You’ve read his books, I assume, and he’s not exactly an angel. I liked Heinlein’s books very much when I was younger, and still have at least nostalgia for them now, but I understand he said some bad things as well.

    @robro: Nothing about white men in general (not just bad things) is (to me at least) not necessarily refreshing, but definitely welcome. White men, myself included, are in general boring.

  18. Rich Woods says

    Silverberg’s relentless Zionism particularly disqualifies him from disparaging “identity politics”

    That would require self-reflection.

  19. methuseus says

    Wow, I didn’t mean to write a wall of text. Sorry for anyone who reads it and is bored.

  20. cartomancer says

    “Pulcharia”? as in a transparent play on the Latin “pulchra” meaning “beautiful”? Is there some kind award for hackneyed, uninspired naming in fiction?

    Also, “Byzantium, Constantinople and Rome”? The first two of those are the same city – modern Istanbul – which was also quite often called “New Rome”. Ancient Romans as prurient, sex-obsessed libertines? A baseless literary trope going back at least to the first century BC? Perhaps Mr. Silverberg will be picking up a second award for uninspired attempts at variety in historical fiction.

  21. Phiknight says

    Between you and a friend talking about this, I went ahead and bought the trilogy on ebooks to take on vacation with me. I feel so far behind!

  22. says

    I liked her speech, and find her critics to be so very typical.

    I read the first book of the series and kind of understood its Hugo, but wasn’t tempted to continue with the series. Maybe I should re-consider, despite my book backlog.

  23. says

    I absolutely loved the Dreamblood books. The characters just kept knocking my socks off. Love all her work, actually, and it’s so fantastic to see the well-deserved recognition flowing.

  24. Wounded King says

    That is a great speech, but I’m just glad ‘The Murderbot Diaries’ got best novella.

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    cartomancer @ # 23: … Byzantium, Constantinople … are the same city…

    Yabbut for a time traveler they would be two separate stops.

  26. says

    Those dudes aren’t white, they’re green with envy.
    They talk about how white dudes in medievalist fantasy and space ships fucking blonde women is what fantasy and SF MUST be about because they are simply not up to the task of writing anything else. They haven’t encountered a new idea since Tolkien and are unable to use even half his original ones in a way that makes sense.
    They don’t know enough actual Western history to meaningfully draw from it and therefore watching somebody like N.K. Jemisin, who in their opinion disqualifies double by being a woman and black write such worlds of history and imagination must shake them to their core.
    I love fantasy (and sf to a lesser extend). A good book entertains me, takes me places. And I don’t even mind if its medieval fantasy and there’s white dudes (but if I don’t encounter an interesting non male character by chapter two I#ll generally lose interest because it usually means that I already know the story. For all the comfort of formula literature, I don’t have time to read that). So that’s what entertains me.
    But a brilliant book does more. It makes me think. And Jemisin can write those and that’s a rare feat.

  27. says

    methuseus @20: “@cubist: why is it surprising Silverberg said something like that?”

    I wasn’t surprised, so much as disappointed in Silverberg. It’s worth noting that VD, the source of the Silverberg quote, has been running a multi-year hate campaign against the Hugos, and is also perfectly capable of taking quotations out of their proper context, or surreptitiously editing were never in the original text, which means that when VD reports something that seems to reflect poorly on the Hugos, it’s best not to take it at face value immediately. So I’d hoped that VD had not reported Silverberg’s words accurately… but he had. Sigh.

    “I liked Heinlein’s books very much when I was younger, and still have at least nostalgia for them now, but I understand he said some bad things as well.”

    Do keep in mind that Heinlein was born in 1907—seven years before the start of World War I. He had some ideas that were a great deal more progressive than most of his contemporaries, and some ideas that weren’t. IMAO, Heinlein was a representative of a political species which was once fairly common, but is rare to the point of extinction in today’s USA: a sane, thinking conservative.

  28. chrislawson says


    I wouldn’t call Heinlein a plain conservative. His politics were eclectic and consistent with both conservative themes (self-reliance, anti-union) and liberal themes (sexual freedom, communitarian living, anti-segregation) and some themes that are just weird and repulsive to just about everyone (pro-incest!, barely-disguised paedophilia!!!). He started more on the left wing, sufficient to be banned from joining the Navy for his radical views during WW2, and drifted to the right when the early Cold War coincided with his forties.

    The thing that makes him readable is that he was a good plot constructor, had a very engaging prose style, and quite a few of his early novels (especially his “juvies” — this was before YA was a publishing label) don’t have much overt politics in them at all. But anything where he explicitly expounds on his politics I find toxic to read.

  29. starfleetdude says

    By the time you win your third Hugo in a row for Best Novel, it’s clear that they really like you. I’m sure Jemison’s line about giving her critics the middle finger using the Hugo rocket was aimed at the likes of Vox Day. But saying it at the Hugo awards ceremony? Not exactly the audience for it by definition.

  30. Oggie. says

    I’m just curious, starfleetdude. What would be an appropriate venue for pointing out that her critics within the community of science fiction writers are sexist and racist asshats? Maybe a sidebar conference with very few attendees? Maybe an event which does not have the cachet of the Hugos (which guarantees her observations would be ignored)?

  31. michaelwbusch says


    That quote from Silverberg is horrific enough. But it gets even more outrageous in context. It’s apparently part of a larger statement which opens with Silverberg stating that he has not read Jemisin’s books – while misspelling her name.

    Link to tweet with screencap: https://twitter.com/rcade/status/1032057376256475137 .

  32. emergence says

    There’s nothing contradictory about what Jemisin said. She was simply noting that people like her have been historically marginalized, but can be highly successful when they’re given a chance to be.

  33. says

    sez chrislawson @31:”He started more on the left wing, sufficient to be banned from joining the Navy for his radical views during WW2…”

    Excuse me? I could have sworn that Heinlein was discharged from the Navy for medical reasons. Where do you get this “radical views” stuff from?

  34. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    @32 starfleetdude “saying it at the Hugo awards ceremony? Not exactly the audience for it by definition.”
    It was the perfect audience, because they had been through the entire crap-fest of the Sad Puppies and ballot cramming.

    @31 chrislawson – Heinlein was discharged from the Navy for tuberculosis.
    You may be confusing him with L Ron Hubbard, who sank imaginary submarines and bombarded Mexico.


  35. Marcelo says

    cartomancer @23:

    “Pulcharia”? as in a transparent play on the Latin “pulchra” meaning “beautiful”? Is there some kind award for hackneyed, uninspired naming in fiction?

    The name is actually Pulcheria and it belongs to a real person, Saint Aelia Pulcheria, Regent of the Byzantine Empire while her brother Theodosius II was a minor. The character Judd meets and seduces is this Pulcheria.

    Also, “Byzantium, Constantinople and Rome”? The first two of those are the same city – modern Istanbul – which was also quite often called “New Rome”.

    You may want to consider that Up The Line is the story about a time-travelling tourism guide. Time travel in that setting does not involve geographical movement, you can travel only to the same physical place in a different time. So, for Judd, Byzantium, Constantinople and Istambul are three different stops in his tour.

    Before criticizing the novel, you may want to learn better about its content. Up The Line is a fun romp, nothing extraordinary. What I enjoyed most was the time-travel treatment and the handling of paradoxes.