I read Jason’s piece after this other piece of his about SFWA and the functions of SFWA. Because that wasn’t published here, I thought I should mention it to people, before I start bringing together the posts of the last few days.
For those not wishing to click through, Jason starts with a fairly outrageous thought experiment of, would you throw a switch on a runaway train to save five people at the experiment of another person, and then gave that person and those five people various identities.
The thought experiment hit so many people wrong that it was called “juvenile” all without getting to the last bit of the post, which was this:
Take this all into comparison with the current dust-up in SF/F and you might… MIGHT… begin to understand. For some within the SFWA community, battle lines MUST be drawn. The very soul of science fiction is at stake, they’ll argue. It is their job to protect it from racism, sexism, misogyny and whatever other buzzword of the week is.
Finally… back to the philosophical questions posed above. Please, I want you to be honest with me (and yourself) in this matter… but did you even think of asking if there was someone else around who could help you save everyone? Because, despite your protestations otherwise, you are not the moral majority and you do NOT get to decide who lives and who dies. NOBODY has that right. You do not get to choose whether Neil deGrasse Tyson is more important that anyone else, or that anyone else is more important that Dr. Tyson.
Or, in the case of Science Fiction/Fantasy, you do not get to determine what is the heart, and what is the soul, and you definitely don’t get to decide what is good and what is bad.
Note that Jason is almost young enough to be my son. Or could be my son, if I had been precocious and naughty, or else if I’d been married at the age some of my ancestresses were.
I loved that sentence I bolded, because it’s not something that would ever have occurred to my generation or older. The whole function of the publisher was to decide what was good and what was bad. There were not enough slots to publish everything, and therefore they chose who (in the literary sense) lived and who died. As my friend Dave Freer pointed out, this was hardest on the top ten percent of submissions who were probably good enough to be published but didn’t “fit what we’re looking for.” As someone who got this answer (personal, so it wasn’t just a dismissal) from the very first short story, I’ll endorse this and add something: the problem with my early stories was that I was writing in a highly individual style, partly due to my background. I reshaped my voice to fit the market to such a point that I could not now recapture that young voice. I think I’m better now, but I would think that anyway. I wonder what an explosion of voices and styles the fact that we can go to the public directly will lead to. But that’s a side excursion.
The point is that right now, even as to the quality of the story, you don’t have to go through anyone who judges whether you’re worthy.
Certainly a lot of the things people publish seem to me well-nigh unreadable. And certainly I’ve found myself wondering if fans were quite sane. This was long before electronic indie. Someone local had written and published, at enormous expense, a book which she read excerpts of at a con. To say they were atrociously bad would be mean, but they were pretty d*mn close. They reminded me of my own very early efforts, say, circa 11: a pastiche of fan imitation and lack of technique, such as how to convey something in the book is supposed to be funny.
This woman had fans. It might have been the theme which involved unusual romance, but she had fans.
I’m not a snob, but I sat there thinking “How? How even?”
However the point is I went through the mill and I was taught what “publishable” is. She wasn’t. Was she good? I don’t think so, but who knows? A million styles will undoubtedly come through now, and some might be pleasing to readers. That’s fine by me.
So, if this judgment is so hard to make, what about moral judgments, the sort SFWA is trying to make, of who is good and who is bad, and to whom and to whose ideas should Science Fiction belong?
Supposing she were alive, and tied to train tracks, would you throw a switch to save Marion Zimmer Bradley from being killed by a runaway train? What if the switch sent the train to the tracks where Resnick and Malzberg are tied together?
I know the answer of the glittery hoo-ha Social Justice Workers, but what is YOUR answer?
The answer of SFWA of course should be that it gets all its members into those tracks at speed to untie all three and pull them to safety. In a metaphorical sense, this is exactly what SFWA was supposed to do in a system which was inherently unfair to the writer.
Moral arbitration never came into it, and it only comes into it now because the people currently in charge of SFWA both think they have all the answers and are stupid enough to think that history is uni-directional and runs in the direction of their beliefs. I’m tempted to say they’ll grow up, but some are my age, and those who aren’t are only ten years younger and ten years ago I knew better.
Moral arbitration requires a system it doesn’t and can’t have, one that looks at the evidence and filters hearsay, one that determines if a crime or even something morally repulsive occurred. It is not “the court of public opinion.”
Dr. Pournelle commented on Jason’s post yesterday. Normally I’d link it here, but I’m away from home, en route to Liberty con, and accessing the comments is something that would take me an hour, otherwise I’d quote his comment. What he said was to the extent that neither he nor Poul Anderson who knew MZB well ever saw evidence of evil-doing, or even indications thereof, and that even the case against her husband seemed a whole lot shakier.
I’m an admirer of Dr. Pournelle, and also, I hope, a friend, and knowing him I would believe his judgment over, even, that of other witnesses. But as my friend Dave Freer answered in comments, no pedophile in their right mind would show even hints of such behavior around Dr. Pournelle or Poul Anderson (whom I’ve never met, so I’m guessing from his books.)
The same as various people are testifying, seemed to be the case with Ed Krammer, founder of Dragon Con, whom various unimpeachable (and not leftist – which is important because people who lionize Che have no more standing. Che’s biography reads, to steal from Grosse Pointe Blank, “like a demon’s resume” but they wear him on t-shirts and hang up posters of him) figures in science fiction were convinced was innocent and came forward to defend.
Does this mean there is a chance MZB was innocent?
Let’s talk about innocent, shall we.
First of all, there should be a defense called “Whilst the balance of society was out of its ever-loving mind.”
It is neither politic nor possibly kind to bring it up here, but in the seventies various authorities who should be hung by the thumbs till dead, were convinced sex with adults was good for children and kept them from being frustrated and such. Yes, this is wrong and here I’m going to say it’s objectively wrong. I have more in common with Jason than I’d like to discuss right here, right now, though in my case, its being a family friend and my not being able to convey to anyone what had happened, at least the authorities didn’t make it worse by taking me away. (He eventually drifted away – I’d grown too old for him – and my parents didn’t find out until he died and his own daughters talked about what he’d done to them, at which point I told my mom – I doubt my dad still knows to this day. The theme surfaces in some of my stories, which I hope no one thinks means I’m advocating it.)
Our current stand is perhaps a little too hysterical in the other direction, though. Please, don’t throw things at me. I am not, nor will I ever, advocate sex with children under or just past puberty, and frankly, as a human being of middle years, the thought of sex with anyone my kids’ age (well beyond age of consent) is puzzling, because what could you possibly have in common with them? BUT I’m sick and tired of moral preening and outrage when some guy gets caught with a woman a few months below the age of consent. Yes, there’s a power imbalance. Yes, there is to an extent an adult “taking advantage” of someone younger. But that way goes the thought of the SJW’s and ends with all PIV being rape, because power imbalances in societies, oh, noes.
The fact is we don’t grow a visible (or invisible) mark of adulthood when we turn eighteen. In fact adulthood at eighteen is a fiction, and a crazy one. Some of my worst mistakes which were largely due to stupid immaturity came in my twenties. I was older than my years in some ways and a moral infant in others.
You need a convenient dividing line, and it’s been set at 18. Fine. I don’t intend to buck it (see where I have no interest in anyone under 40 or, really, anyone but my husband.)
But be aware of how extremely the pendulum has swung. Yes, in the seventies, reputable (and very Marxist, which was part of it, because of thinking of people as not having a moral dimension) thinkers thought sex with children was not only a okay, but might be beneficial.
There is a distressing tendency in SF/F to throw in with the latest scientific obsession, and some hint of that came across to me from MZB’s disposition – that “I traveled so far in my thought that I lost my bearings” bewildered tone of “Some people might be mature enough for sex at—”
While this did not excuse her turning a blind eye in Breen’s case, it does explain the circumstances of it, assuming that she were innocent of it herself.
Guys, it’s no use whatsoever pretending our people aren’t weird, and sexually weird, as well as in other ways, and that part of our weirdness is driven by “thinking too much.”
There is a book called House of Redgrave, which so far as I knew is not available in ebook in the US, or at least it wasn’t a few weeks ago, when I looked. It is the “biography” of actress Vanessa Redgrave, or perhaps of her family. My son and I stumbled on a review of it at the same time. The review described a scene of Vanessa coming in and finding her husband and father in bed together. According to the reviewer, her father said, “Darling, what is the problem? You love him, I love him—”
It came up in conversation with my son (my son is 22 and, yep, we often discuss cultural stuff and weirdness) and he said, “The worst part is that I can imagine hearing the same story at a con, and at least half the time the ending wouldn’t be that she ran screaming from the room. No, it would be “and I thought about it, and he was right, so we’ve been living in a threesome for 20 years, but it’s all right, because my dad and I don’t do anything, we just share whateverhisnameis.”
And you know what, he’s absolutely right. Our field – mostly fandom, though there are some authors too – has some of the most… ah… interesting amorous arrangements in history. Most of this falls under the heading of group marriage, as I found out as I made what I thought was a joke about it at a con, by saying that polygamy was its own punishment and found more than one line marriage among the audience. (All of them offended.)
It takes very smart people to try something that crazy and make it work. Now, as far as I know, those are all adults, and no, I’m not putting it on a level as child rape, but while normal people would recoil from line marriages, among our people you are likely to find them accepted and have to worry about offending them. From that point, it’s easy to imagine MZB thinking there were circumstances under which a bit of pedophilia was excusable, if not morally justified.
Then there is hearsay. I presume the depositions are authentic. They have that feel. And please don’t think I’m impugning MZB’s daughter, I’m sure difficult, coming out with her own story. I believe this is all true, simply because it has that feel and it connects with the history other people peripheral to the circle, have talked about.
However, if one wanted to judge, really judge, finally and with the consequences of a court at law, more would be needed. Much more.
Again, I don’t think it applies in this case, but we’ve all heard of false memories, not to mention anything else.
What I’m trying to say here is that it’s possible for us to work and live alongside people who do heinous things and never know they did those heinous things or even suspect something is not quite right.
My parents certainly had no idea what was going on with their old friend who was very careful around them. (My mom should have guessed from what she walked in on, once, but who am I to judge. I might not have guessed, particularly if this was an old friend and I had reason to like him and think him a good person and my daughter were 9, looked like a boy, and I thought her too young for anyone to think of her sexually.) Even though he was abusing their only daughter under their own roof.
Much less could colleagues and even con-friends of various people know what was going on in their private lives.
I despise the “you must distance yourself from” mentality that pervades politics because of that. Ninety percent of the time the horrible blurting one must distance from (or even the horrible reported actions) have been spun to be far more heinous.
The insistence one pass moral judgment on people with whom one associates only in a distant and at a remove way, like colleagues or, more ludicrous, someone who shares SOME of our opinions, is a recipe for witch hunts. Irrational ones.
What happened to Resnick and Malzberg was certainly irrational, and we have young people thinking they were “describing” women in bikini and going on about how hot they were, instead of mentioning in passing how beautiful an editor was, and also committing the unspeakable crime of calling someone a lady.
And it’s equally irrational to tar everyone with child-rape because they didn’t know MZB likely was committing it, and supported her in other capacities.
Which is why that is not what SFWA is supposed to do. Not by any remote, or even insane stretch of the imagination.
It is a professional organization. That’s all it is. If someone is tied to the rail of a bad contract, bad publicity, inability to navigate the world of publishing, it’s supposed to untie them, not throw the switch to someone “more guilty of bad think” or disapproved of by the majority of its members.
Instead, in an age where the aesthetic judgment of publishers is no longer needed nor indeed productive, its chosen to throw its lot behind MORAL judgment and a sort of aesthetic based on politics. I don’t know what that aesthetic is good for, but it’s certainly not for choosing stories that will have broad appeal. (If you were a science fiction writer, my love, you’d know that that particular story was the sort of twaddle written by a precocious/delayed adolescent trying to hit all the right buttons.) And I don’t know what their moral judgment is good for, but I defy anyone sane to explain why one should destroy all books written by someone who – like our president for most of his term – disapproves of gay marriage, (and for the record, I support gay marriage, so this isn’t even an opinion I agree with, just one that is neither criminal nor particularly rare) – while keeping the books of someone who stands accused of child rape by her own daughter.
The book is not the writer. Yes, a certain type of book makes me recoil: books that ADVOCATE (not merely mention or even write about it, says she who got a story rejected 70 places because someone confused describing Roman ephebophilia with advocating it.) pedophilia are among those. As are books whose “moral” is that human beings are the worst creatures on Earth. (Compared to what?) she asks. Other books I have no interest in are noble savage books, that put down Western Civilization in favor of some mythical, untainted culture. (There is never any such thing, all cultures being composed of human beings.)
BUT note I don’t advocate shunning those books. They’re not for me, but some might find value in them.
I don’t advocate shunning the writer, either, unless instruments of justice finer than we, as colleagues and fellow writers, can command, determine the writer is guilty. Then you’re free to recoil, as you would from anyone else, but you don’t have to “distance” yourself anymore than a computer programmer would have to distance themselves if another computer programmer were a mass murderer. Of course, if you know of what happened, and that a court found them guilty, you also shouldn’t write a lauding biography with no mention of it.
But you don’t have to say “my whole field is tainted, woe is me.” I’m neither into pedophilia, nor into line marriage. And the fact that many of the active fans and some of my colleagues are capable of entertaining very weird ideas doesn’t even make my field unique. Almost any “geek field” is like that, part of thinking so much you can believe and/or excuse anything.
You don’t share anything with these people but an avocation. The avocation is not what makes them either call women ladies or sleep with children. (And if you don’t see a difference in “crime” between those two, you might consider having your head examined.)
No organization of writers, in fact no “Consensus of the field” should have an opinion in this. Individual writers may, if they so wish.
As someone who grew up across the sea, thinking of all science fiction writers as gods in their own little Olympus I say, let the evil that men (and women) did be interred with their bones. Judge them only as writers and as colleagues. And be aware other people will judge them differently.
There is no imperative to – universally – like or dislike the same things, or even the same type of things, or even things with the same structure.
My guess is over the next ten years the field will become so aesthetically diverse that the idea of judging the “best sf novel of the year” will be an artifact of a time long gone.
And the idea of judging writers’ work by the writers’ morals or bad think or lack there of is already crazy, and will by then be simply alien, like a fragment of something found on alien ruins which might have been an object used every day, a piece of a spaceship that once landed there, or a rare object d’art a long vanished race thought beautiful.
There will be no way to even guess at its form or function.