Sheesh, I missed the worst bit of the Hugo awards

Since I didn’t watch the awards presentation at all, I missed George R. R. Martin making a colossal flaming ass of himself. Here’s a summary:

The host for this year’s festivities was George R.R. Martin and he spent an awful lot of time talking about John W. Campbell, noted fascist and racist. Pretty sure that between Martin and Bob Silverberg, Campbell (noted fascist and racist!) was mentioned more than the aggregate of the folks being honored. I aged approximately 67 years during Silverberg’s segment.

We were treated to tales of how Martin is Just Like Us while he was broadcasting from the movie theater he owns for funsies. I lost count of how many times he mentioned that fandom used to be so much smaller that Worldcon was in a hotel and that there was a banquet with rubbery chicken (no one cares).

Because it’s such a goddamn fucking shame that fandom is so much larger and diverse than it was 50 fucking years ago. Because the people nominated for and winning awards aren’t exclusively white and male. The first woman to win a Hugo Award–in any category–was Anne McCaffrey, who tied with Philip José Farmer in 1968 for her novella, “Weyr Search.” The first Hugo Award was given out in 1953. It was fifteen years before a woman won. Four-time nominee James Davis Nicoll has done more work in this area than I have, and I recommend that y’all look very closely at that giant table of doom.

I’ve done a bit of searching–not much–and I can’t find a comparable analysis around race and the Hugos. But I can say that N.K. Jemisin was the first Black person to win the Hugo for Best Novel. In 2016. In 2016.

Speaking of Jemisin, Martin made the decision to first mention her unprecedented accomplishment of winning the Best Novel three years in a row–no one else of any race or gender has ever accomplished a Best Novel hat trick–and then attempt to undermine it by talking at great length the time Heinlein won three Hugos in nine years, culminating in some sort of shaggy dog story involving a white dinner jacket and Stranger in a Strange Land. I’ve forgotten the details because Heinlein is irrelevant to the discussion.

What I haven’t forgotten is this: George R.R. Martin repeatedly mispronounced the names of nominees and, in one case, a publication which was nominated. All the nominees were asked to provide pronunciations for their names in advance. The fact that Martin chose not to use that information is disgusting and racist as fuck, as nearly without exception the names he mispronounced were Black and brown. He mispronounced FIYAH, a publication owned, edited, and written by Black people.

This is thoroughly beyond the pale, especially since those segments were pre-recorded and CoNZealand could have asked him to re-do those segments and pronounce peoples’ names correctly. Names are important. They have power.

Read The Whole Thing. There’s more, much more. I’m rather appalled at his behavior, and the fact that he chose to go on and on praising Campbell, after the award that used to be called the Campbell award was explicitly renamed because of his terrible behavior (cancelled!), and when one of the awards he was handing out was to Jeanette Ng, who had called out Campbell.

Jeanette Ng took the best related work award, for her acceptance speech last year at the Hugos upon receiving the John W Campbell award for best new writer, in which she called Campbell a fascist who set a tone “of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists.” The prize was later renamed the Astounding award.

Imagine a dumpster fire in a train wreck. That’s what this awards ceremony sounds like. The organizers who made a whole chain of stupid decisions have apologized; Martin has not.

In conclusion, let us shoot George R.R. Martin and Bob Silverberg into the sun where they shall bother us no longer.

That’s too much work, and far too expensive. How about never allowing those two to speak at a con ever again? Simply never inviting them, either? I expect it’s inevitable that Game of Thrones will get another nomination, if he ever finishes it — how about not?

By the way, I have good memories of reading Silverberg, and a couple of years ago I re-read Hawksbill Station, one that I’d last read as a teenager. It’s a time-travel story, and Hawksbill Station is set in the Cambrian! On re-reading it, though, I discovered that it is the most sexist, awful piece of crap, a real shit-show of a story, and I was so ashamed of Teenaged Me, and I don’t think I could ever read another Silverberg story.


  1. JoeBuddha says

    I’m convinced that my addiction to golden age and later Sci-fi set my emotional development back decades. I used to be a big Doc Smith fan. Now, I have no idea why.

  2. robro says

    I don’t think you should be ashamed of teenaged you. You had to start somewhere. You’ve learned and grown out of that. If you were still defending and applauding that crap…like some adults apparently do…then yeah. Shame away.

  3. waydude says

    Good lord. Makes me feel good about my decision to never read another thing from GRRM. I don’t see the appeal of the GOT books or tv show and I am a diehard scifi nerd geek since I was 8 years old. They seem like they should be right up my alley, until I read them, got to the second book, never finished it and never wanted to. Don’t have HBO but I saw a few eps of the show and when Sean Bean died I was out

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    cervantes @4: Delany won two Hugos; one for a short story, one for non-fiction. He was nominated for a couple novels in the 60s/70s IIRC.

  5. Nathan Mauk says

    @cervantes I wondered about that myself so I looked it up. It turns out that Delany won a Hugo award for best short story, for “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones,” in 1970, and again for best related work, for his memoir “The Motion of Light in Water,” in 1989. Apparently N.K. Jemisin was indeed the first Black person to win for best novel, though other Black writers have won in other categories.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    waydude @3: I like Martin’s writing, but gave up halfway through the first book some years ago, for two reasons; it was obviously going to be ridiculously long, and the variable-length seasons bothered me.

    In the last month, I’ve watched the TV series twice through, and thought it one of the best I’ve seen, except for the last season; looked like a rush job. Good yarn, good writing, compelling characters, brilliant cast. Loved the dragons. Of course, the TV people simplified the story up to what Martin has written so far, and made up the rest, but they largely did good, IMO. Still don’t want to read the books, though.

  7. gorobei says

    I’m honestly ashamed I read a lot of early SciFi very naively.
    Then, one day, I picked up “The Iron Dream” and started to read. I went to from “WTF is this?” to “OMFG, I need to reassess” in less than a day.

  8. Nathan Mauk says

    To follow up on my comment @6 and Rob Grigjanis @5, it seems like the Nebula Awards have been friendlier to minority writers than the Hugos. This may or may not indicate something about the different tastes and prejudices of writers and fans.

    Cervantes’ puzzlement @4 is understandable, since we tend to think of Best Novel as the “big” category, the equivalent to the Oscars’ Best Picture, so we imagine that a major writer must have won in that category. Certainly the novel garners more respect (and more readers) than other literary forms, and writing a well-received novel is practically the sine qua non of literary success. Unfortunately this tendency devalues worthwhile writers (like Borges or Lydia Davis) who do their best work in other, often shorter, forms.

  9. kaleberg says

    In a hundred years, they’ll be crapping on John Lewis because he ate meat. (I may be wrong. It might be because he wore wool or burned fossil fuels or something. Some things are harder to predict than others.) I’ll admire him for his work towards civil rights today, and, if I am alive in a hundred years – fat chance – I’ll stick up for him.

  10. says

    Yes? We should criticize people from the past for bad ideas. What is it with people who think we have to have nothing but perfect saints?

  11. whheydt says

    It’s a serious problem I’ve looked at for years. Can you examine the character of someone in terms of their time and place, or do you have to do it in terms of modern sensibilities?

    Take Roy Chapman Andrews. Two brilliant ideas that worked–that the Gobi Desert was a good place to look for fossils, that you could run expeditions there with motor vehicles for transport–and one we now know was dumb from outset–that the place to look for the earliest human ancestors was Central Asia. But you have to also consider that Andrews himself was not a paleontologist, but a naturalist, when that meant finding animals, shooting them, and bringing the skins and bones back. That was a fully accepted thing to do…in the 1920s.

    What isn’t as easy to deal with is someone who is out of step with the sensibilities of the times he is in. For example, Orson Scott Card. Condemning gays would have gone over without comment a hundred years ago. In the 1990s? No. As a result, while I’d be willing to reread works by Andrews that I read in my youth (60 years ago), I won’t touch Card, who should have known better.

  12. says

    It’s a serious problem I’ve looked at for years. Can you examine the character of someone in terms of their time and place, or do you have to do it in terms of modern sensibilities?

    Here’s the problem with the “people’s own time and space” argument:
    First of all, it always ignores those people within the same dominant group as that person at that time who sure as fuck knew that those people and their ideas were wrong.
    Second, more importantly, it always takes the side and perspective of the pertpetrator, of the powerful and dominant group.
    Do you think the victims of racism didn’t know it was wrong? In excusing people’s view, or trying to judge them “within their time” you again erase those people and agree with the worst dipshits of humanity that the victims of racism, sexism, anti semitism, homo- and transphoia, etc. weren’t really people and that their perspective didn’t and doesn’t matter.

  13. chrislawson says

    Adding to Gilliel–

    Yes, people’s beliefs are products of their time and culture, but even slave-based societies had people who argued against slavery as far back as the ancient Greeks and Achmaenid Persians. Even in cultures where a particular moral error is endemic, there are people who will argue against it. Which is why the “this person was raised in a racist/sexist/pro-slavery culture” is only a good defence for young people who have not had the time to reflect on their accultured biases.

    And yes, if John Lewis is criticised for meat-eating by a future vegetarian society, I don’t see why that’s a problem. Most of us are quite capable of understanding that someone can do great things in one area while being less than paragons in another.

  14. says

    Oh, and of course he had to a dig at N.K. Jemisin, who managed the outstanding achievement of winning three consecutive Hugos for an excellent high world fantasy trilogy while he basically had his standard medievalist formula fantasy but bigger series* finished by two dudes on HBO with more budget than sense.
    *If I had started the whole series back when it came out I would probably have loved it. By now I’m mildly bored by standard medievalist formula fantasy. Mostly thanks to people like N.K. Jemisin or Martha Wells who can think up different worlds than a basic white people ass kingdom with magic and a few swarthy people thrown in for local flair.

  15. KG says

    Can you examine the character of someone in terms of their time and place, or do you have to do it in terms of modern sensibilities? – whheydt@12

    What Giliell said @14. But also: why not both? There were plenty of anti-fascists around when Campbell was promoting his loathsome views, even among people of similar privilege. So in his case, assessing him in his socio-historical context reinforces the condemnation.

  16. Allison says

    Another way to judge someone who lived and acted in an earlier time is to look at the effects of their acts. To what extent are the praiseworthy parts of their legacy independent of the condemnable parts?

    For example, I grew up in a city which revered Robert E. Lee as a war hero and Jefferson Davis as a statesman. Their not-so-tiny flaw was that the very things they were honored for were in fact their work for a cause that was an abomination — not only in my opinion, but the opinion of most of the Western world at that time. (In case you didn’t get it — the “abomination” was slavery.) Put aside the stuff that was about slavery, and there’s not much left.

    By contrast, John Lewis’s main legacy will be his efforts to roll back segregation and racism. Even if someday eating meat will be considered an abomination, it won’t be hard to separate that from his civil rights work.

    And Campbell? Yes, he contributed much to the growth of Science Fiction, but the SF that he successfully promoted was jingoistic, imperialist, racist, and sexist to the point of misogyny. It was an SF that excluded anyone who didn’t fit into their frat-boyish boys’ club, with a culture which condoned and even honored sexual assault (cf. Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison.) The “rabid puppies” and “sad puppies” are his legacy, not the N. K. Jemisins or the Joanna Russes.

  17. Allison says

    And as for George R. R. Martin — I guess I can’t say I’m surprised.

    I remember when many of the blogs I follow were breathlessly dissecting each new episode of “Game of Thrones,” and there was not one comment or description that gave me the slightest hint that any part of the series or the books contained any redeeming social value whatsoever. From what I could see, it was nothing but a festival of atrocity and gore, reveling in wanton rape and mass murder and glorying in its utter depravity.

    The descriptions were more than enough for me; they left me with no desire to read or watch any part of it. I already know that there is no horror that the human mind can invent that someone, somewhere is not perpetrating, probably even as we speak, and that the world is largely indifferent to them. I don’t need to read or watch a story which presents those horrors as if I’m supposed to be enjoying them.

    That the person who created these stories, evidently for no higher purpose than his own enjoyment and the enjoyment of his readers, turns out to be someone who has little respect for anyone not like himself or his buddies, is sad but not surprising.

  18. says

    Then, one day, I picked up “The Iron Dream” and started to read. I went to from “WTF is this?” to “OMFG, I need to reassess” in less than a day.

    I loved “The Iron Dream.” It’s the best parody of the fascistic tendencies in classic age SF ever!

  19. Artor says

    It’s always sad when the Suck Fairy visits an old work we once loved. But we grow up and move forward, while that work and sadly, sometimes the writers, never do. I grew up on the John Carter of Mars stories, and I re-read some a while back. Those did not age well!

  20. Artor says

    It’s a serious problem I’ve looked at for years. Can you examine the character of someone in terms of their time and place, or do you have to do it in terms of modern sensibilities?

    Future generations will look back on the early 21st Century in America as being racist as fuck. The President, the Senate, police departments nationwide, and large portions of the country bristle at any suggestion that they tone it back even a little. It is clearly the mainstream culture here and now. Does that excuse the racists? Can anthropologists of the 22nd century, looking back at the people marching with Confederate flags and shit-posting on Twitter, dismiss their racism as being “a product of their time?” Pardon my French, but fuck that!

  21. Rob Grigjanis says

    Allison @19: About the TV show: Well, there was the whole abolishing of slavery thing in the cities of Slaver’s Bay, renamed Dragon’s Bay. There was much about the destructive power of religion, and of hereditary monarchy. The worst perpetrators got sorted. So it’s got more “redeeming social value”, if that’s necessary for you, than most literature/film/TV.

    To me, it was mainly about the personal journeys of the major characters; the (often horribly stupid) choices they make, the consequences of those choices, the possibility of redemption, and so on.

  22. springa73 says

    I’m pretty sure that most people throughout history accept most of the prejudices of their own times, and those that do not have their own different set of prejudices. To be prejudiced is just a very common human trait. If you’re going to consider anyone who has a baseless prejudice against some group of humanity to be evil, then that’s probably most of humanity historically and today.

  23. starskeptic says

    …I expect it’s inevitable that Game of Thrones will get another nomination, if he ever finishes it…

    A quibble:
    A Game of Thrones, being the first book in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, is quite finished.
    Not so much a quibble:
    I’ve had quite enough of George R.R. Martin…

  24. fishy says

    Silverberg still does a column for Asimov’s Sci-Fi which has become rather progressive in its story choices and authors thanks to their editor Sheila Williams.

  25. pacal says

    No. 8 & 20

    Yes Spinrad’s The Iron Dream is indeed a vicious, sick and funny satire of the Fascistic tendencies in Science Fiction. After all it is a novel “written” by Adolf Hitler, (Complete with a list of Hitler’s other books like The Master Race etc.), and not only is it a truly off the wall parody of Science Fiction Fascism; but it is also an unnerving look into a truly sick mind.. (The fictional author Adolf Hitler). The novel comes complete with a parody “learned” Afterword.

    The “climax” at the end is insane. I love it!!!

  26. steve1 says

    If that was the worst thing your teen age self did you are doing pretty good. I try to tell my teenage son that in the future you will look back at your teenage self and think what the hell was I thinking.

  27. davidbrown says

    I’m sad to read this. Mr Martin was a guest at a very small convention I chaired back in 1986, and I got to spend some time with him and found him to be a Nice Guy in personal conversation. Mind you, he just read from one of his works and gave no editorial comments about much of anything else, so he didn’t have an opportunity to show off any horrible opinions. So yeah, Suck Fairy.
    Since then I’ve read much more Jemisin than Martin, never having gotten into the GoT novels. (In fact I think the last Martin work I’ve read was “Fevre Dream”, so that’s been a long time.)
    Any word on Clive Barker? Around the same time as above I got to have a very nice chat with him, and also found him to be a Nice Guy in personal conversation. Is the Suck Fairy going to visit me again?

  28. Jemolk says

    What Martin seems to regard as ‘realism’ really doesn’t interest me. Way too cynical. Was never really interested in his work for that reason. Always disappointed to see another person turn out to be awful, though.

    On evaluating people from times past — whether we need to condemn them or not really depends, IMHO, on three things — how serious the moral wrong they supported is, how integral it was to their overall work, and whether they were ahead of, behind, or with the curve of society as a whole. The first two have sort of been addressed, but for the third — I agree with Giliell that the perspective of the powerful is not the most important one, and that in all cases, there have been people who spoke out against injustice. That said, if, for example, a past person’s racism was more incidental rather than tied to their work, and they were even ever-so-slightly better than the general sentiment of the time, such as Charles Darwin, I think it’s good to disclaim their bad views as bad when we discuss their overall ideas or them as a person, but I don’t think outright condemnation of them as a whole needs to necessarily happen either. None of the second part of that conditional (at the very least) applies to either Martin or Campbell, however, so it’s pretty extraneous to this discussion.

  29. chrislawson says


    Darwin was way ahead of his contemporaries on racism. He wrote The Descent of Man to argue that we are all one species with trivial interracial differences while many of his naturalist colleagues were busy applying horrific taxonomies to human populations for the purpose of calling other races non-human. This is not to gloss over the racist beliefs Darwin had, but in contrast to his times he was waaaaay more than “ever-so-slightly better” than the standard view of Victorian scientific gentlemen. The problem is that the standard was so awful back then that even Darwin’s racist views look like pure golden enlightenment by contrast.

  30. says

    I read the Xanth novels when I was a kid. Reread them in preparation for giving them to my kids, and immediately tossed them out upon reading “A Spell for Chameleon.” Ewwww…..

  31. Scott Petrovits says

    I’m definitely going to start pronouncing GRRM’s name as “HOR-hay URR mar-TEHN” whenever I can. Seems only fair.

  32. epawtows says

    I remember at time (about fifteen years ago, I think) on a convention mailing list, there was chatter about the con I help run (Norwescon, the big volunteer one in the Seattle area). There was someone there (a lady, I think, who was involved with NWC in the early 80’s, when it was younger) who was insisting that it didn’t have the right to call itself a ‘Science Fiction Convention’ anymore, because it wasn’t centered around fanzines like it used to be. Insisted that nothing had the right to call itself related to ‘Science Fiction Fandom’ except in regards to how it dealt with fanzines.

    I guess people just like things the way they used to be when they started.

  33. KG says

    If you’re going to consider anyone who has a baseless prejudice against some group of humanity to be evil, then that’s probably most of humanity historically and today. – springa73@25

    Probably a good thing no-one has suggested doing so, then.

  34. Jemolk says

    chrislawson @32 — Fair point. One which, I think, actually helps the overall point I was trying to make, by making the distinction clearer. That is, someone like Charles Darwin, who tried to be better and was, but who still harbored issues, even fairly severe ones, is someone who it’s fair to call “a product of their time” when those issues are relevant to the conversation. This is in no small part because it seems sensible to consider that if they were in a more enlightened environment, they would likely have grown with it. That’s far less true of someone dragged along by the progress of society (which is what George R.R. Martin appears to be here), let alone someone who actively endorsed views which are regressive by the standards of their time (e.g. John W. Campbell).