“History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.”
—Marsha P. Johnson, trans and gay rights activist who may have thrown the first brick at Stonewall.
We don’t know which way things will break tomorrow. Oh, we know some things. The pussy-grabber will declare himself a winner and claim that any news to the contrary is because of voter fraud. We also know that we’ll have an unprecedented voter turn-out (because early voting has already matched or exceeding all voting from four years ago in many places).
Four years ago, I was not prepared for Hillary to be one of those candidates who won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. I knew that Trump would be a disaster. I knew things would be horrible. I cried.
It wasn’t despair. Oh, yes—I was extremely sad and more than a bit afraid, that’s true. But mostly I was disappointed and angry. I was angry that people who claimed to love me were crowing in celebration after he won. That some were repeating the most racist and homophobic wishes of his base. I was angry at the enablers of evil who still, four years later, argue that voting for a third party candidate doesn’t make them responsible for every bad thing—including every single U.S. COVID death—that has happened since that evil, incompetent man was inaugurated.
Four years later I’m still disappointed and angry at a lot of my fellow citizens. Angry at the people who told me I was overreacting four years ago. Disappointed that even though worse things than I was predicting back then have happened again and again, many of them still scold me for encouraging people to vote Blue No Matter Who. Angry at the cynical people who have capitalized on the moronavirus and his destructive, evil, nihilist administration. Angry at the media for acting as if this is all just a game between equally valid viewpoints.
I’ve had a small number of people tell me to stop being angry. Calm down, they say. Reason can win out, if you just give it a chance, they say.
And they are wrong. I’ve known that they are wrong since I was in elementary school. Because one of the masterpieces of science fiction/fantasy taught me this profound truth:
“Stay angry, Little Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.”
—From A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
Evil is not conquered by politely asking it to discuss things reasonably. Evil is conquered by people unwilling to back down, be cowed, or be silenced.
I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time in the fall of 1969, when I was nine years old. I know because I remember the enthusiastic conversation I had with my first third-grade teacher. It just so happens that about four months before that, the Stonewall Riots had taken place in New York City. I didn’t learn about Stonewall until many, many years later. But one of the queer people who rose up that night to fight back against the police brutality that gay, lesbian, and trans people had endured for decades was Marsha P. Johnson. Ever since I learned about her, Marsha has been one of my heroes. And though I suspect she never read A Wrinkle In Time, I think she would agree with Mrs. Whatsit.
“We want to see all gay people have a chance at equal rights , as straight people in America. We believe in picking up a gun, and starting a revolutionary if necessary.”
—Marsha P. Johnson
Whatever happens tomorrow—even if Biden wins, and the Dems increase their majority in the House, and the Dems flip the Senate, and if we take majorities and gubernatorual races in states that have previously been red—it isn’t the end of the fight. It’s just the beginning.
I’m staying angry. I’m ready to do what it takes to carry the fight forward and win it.
Are you with me?
More recently I was explaining about something my husband and I had been talking about, and a different friend said, “That’s practically a recipe blog!” Since I was unfamiliar with the term, I had to ask what he meant. Turns out that it’s a joke which has spawned an entire genre of memes out there I’d never seen. The idea is you search for a recipe on line, but several of the hits are long, rambling blog posts about the day that the blogger first encountered this dish, and all the things about the experience that have remained important in their life, only to finally, deliver a very short (and sometimes not all that helpful) recipe.
I felt attacked.
Of course, I have just committed that kind of Recipe Blog, in that I have shared not one, but two anecdotes about the topic I intend to write this post about, without having yet gotten to the point.
On the other hand, several years ago after I had brought a casserole I call “Great Grandma’s Chicken Noodle” to a social event, a bunch of people asked for the recipe. Which wasn’t easy for me to share, because I had learned to make as a child by helping one of my great-grandmothers in the kitchen. At no time had I ever had a list of ingredients and the exact measures, because that’s not how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked. So I spent an afternoon making the dish again, writing things down as I went along, and then converted my notes into a long post. I did include the approximate measurements of all the ingredients I used, but I also explained how substitutions could be made. And a lot of the process of the recipe were steps like, “stir the ingredients that are currently in a pan furiously until all the chicken pieces are white and the is a smooth, thick consistency–if your arm isn’t sore, you probably haven’t stirred long enough.”
After I posted it, more than one person who read it commented that never in their life had they been able to successfully follow a traditional recipe, because the writer assumed a lot of skills they didn’t have, but they felt this kind of recipe might be something they could do. One reported two weeks later they had followed my super-verbose recipe and it had tasted delicious.
Particularly if the subject I’m writing about is political or social commentary, I start with the anecdote because:
- It provides some context for my perspective, which may make it easier from someone who disagrees when I get to the point to at least see why I feel that way,
- It pre-empts accusations that I’m talking about something that never happens (a frequent tactic of bad faith trolls),
- It demonstrates that I have some experience with the topic under discussion,
- It helps to establish and nurture social glue.
Humans are social beings. We build trust and understanding through, among other things, sharing truths about ourselves. The more we know about someone, the more we feel we understand them. A blog is a type of social media (even if the long form that I am writing here has mostly been supplanted by tweets, instagram posts, and the like), so some social interaction is implied.
A lot of people misunderstand what it means that humans are social animals. It doesn’t just mean that we like to hang out together. Being social is a major survival trait of our species. We instinctively form communities, friendships, and so one, and we take care of each other. A lot of people think that taking care of each other is just about personal favors and charity. But it’s a lot more than that. All sorts of social customs, many of our ethical rules, and so forth, form an involuntary system of caretaking, as well. We punish individuals who do things that harm or imperil others–sometimes that punishment is formal, such as through the justice system, but far more of the punishments are informal and manifest in various social ways.
And we forget that notions such as private property, capital, and money as a means of regulating the exchange of goods and services are all artificial, and relatively recent inventions. Don’t confuse private property with personal property, those are vary different things. There is evidence that even before humans arose 200,000 years ago, some of our ancestral hominids had a concept of personal property: this sharpened stone tool I have made and use for various thing is my tool, that wooden carving I made with it and gave to the child of my sister is the child’s figurine.
Private Property is stuff such as Real Estate–specifically the notion that every square inch of the surface of the planet is available to be declared the private property of a specific person. There have been many human civilizations that existed for thousands of years that held as a basic concept that contrary idea that much of the land is common, rather than private, and if it belongs to anyone, it belongs collectively to the community. There are other types of metaphorical property that were also thought of as held in commons, that we have metaphorically fenced off and now require most people to pay for its use.
We have organized modern society so that most individuals must sacrifice a lot of their labor, time, and even their health merely to survive, while a smaller number are allowed to do way more than survive without expending the same amount of labor, time or health. The idea of taxation was originally an extension of those instinctive societal norms to keep us taking care of each other, but we’ve weaponized them in a way that instead allows some people to not just avoid doing their fair share, but to exploit that rest.
It can be argued (and has been) that the modern artificial notion of private property isn’t merely a bad idea, it is a deadly idea–for the majority of people. It is mathematically impossible for someone to become fabulously wealthy without exploiting and effectively stealing the value generated by hundred, thousands, or more individuals. And the system that has created that wealth is built on the notion that the wealth of those who have it must constantly expand, which means more and more exploitation of everyone else, which eventually means killing everyone else… and when there is no one left to exploit, the whole thing will collapse.
We have got to figure out how to unweaponize these systems, and make the parasites stop leeching off of everyone else, and actually pay their fair share to their fellow humans. Ignoring the problem is a recipe fo extinction.
And no one wants extinction for breakfast.
Before I talk about anything, please watch this video — Flashback to when Kamala Harris ordered same-sex marriage licenses to be issued after Prop 8 was overturned:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Matt Baum talks about the times Kamala Harris fought to bring Marriage Equality back to California after Prop 8, including what it was like to be standing with the two guys who were trying to get the license that you see in the video above: The Two Times I Watched Kamala Harris Make History.
I have previously said that sometimes you have to vote for the candidate that won’t make things worse. And in this year’s presidential election your choice is to either vote for Biden/Harris or you let the fascist win. It’s just math at this point. A vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Trump.
When I was explaining this one a few months ago to someone, I included the metaphor that, because society is big and you’ll never find a single candidate who a majority agrees with 100%, you have to think of it as transit. You get on the bus that is going in the right direction (or as close to the right direction as feasible). Someone who thought he was being clever came back with “What happens if neither bus is going in the right direction, hmmmm?” I’ll say then what I tried to say to him: not enabling fascist is never the wrong direction.
My first choice back when the debates were happening was Warren. By the time my state’s Democratic Primary happened, Warren had withdrawn. As had my second, third, and fourth choices. Warren was still technically on the ballot, because they had been printed early, but because she had already withdrawn, she would not be awarded any delegates even if she won our state. A vote for Warren at that point wouldn’t send a message to anyone. So I voted for my fifth choice, Bernie Sanders.
Before Bernie suspended his campaign a month later, for sixth, seventh, and eighth, choices had already dropped out (a couple of those dropped out long before my state’s primary, actually). So now the nominee is my ninth choice, Joe Biden.
But once he became the presumptive nominee, he became my candidate.
In my personal ranking for president, I had Kamala above Joe. But once we were in the Veep-stakes, where choices aren’t limited to other folks who sought the nomination, once the list of people being vetted was known, Harris wasn’t my first choice for Vice President, either. And my ranking was based on the question, “Of the people being considered, which one do I think is most equipped to take over the office of President, if goddess forbid, something happens to Joe—and keep us moving away from the alt-right mess and toward a more progressive future.”
I know people have their lists of all the policies Biden or Harris have supported that are “wrong” or “too timid,” et cetera. But whoever your favorite candidate is, I guarantee if you name them and give me a few minutes, I can come up with just as many things that that person is wrong about, et cetera. No one is going to match any single vote 100%.
Anyway, the choice has been made. The ticket has to be formalized at the virtual convention, yet, but we have the ticket. Now it’s our job to vote. It’s our job to register if we aren’t already registered, to confirm that we are registered even if we are certain we are, to plan to vote, and to vote all the way down the ballot. Swapping out the president isn’t going to be sufficient to get us out of the mess.
And the best way you can push the country further to the left than you think Biden or Harris can, is to elect progressive candidates in all the down-ballot offices. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I’ve going to close by quoting from Matt Baum’s article I linked above.
Kamala Harris isn’t 100% there on every issue that’s important to me. She never will be. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get over how she denied medical care to trans inmates.
But I also saw first-hand that at a crucial moment, she was ready to ensure that justice would be done.
I linked previously to Cora Buhlert’s excellent account from the viewpoint of a finalist nervously waiting to find out if they had to give an acceptance speech while George R.R. Martin went on and on. There are many other excellent posts about what it was like to sit through it: GEORGE R.R. MARTIN CAN FUCK OFF INTO THE SUN, OR: THE 2020 HUGO AWARDS CEREMONY (RAGEBLOG EDITION) is pretty cathartic. When Dinosaurs Roamed The Earth goes with sarcasm rather than rage, but also includes an excellent list (with sources) of why the people George wanted to talk about instead of the actual nominees (and also the full text of the Rebecca F. Kuang’s acceptance speech for the Astounding Award). Then there’s Jason Sanford’s post on Patreon (but available to non-supporters) in which he explains why he’s tired of modern SF/F and its creators being endlessly compared unfavorably to what the genre was like 50 years ago. He also has links to several good twitter threads on the topic. Robert J. Sawyer raises another issue about Martin’s remarks in the ceremony. Meanwhile, Doris V. Sutherland puts the issue in context with the themes of the winning works. And let’s not forget the every pithy and point Ursula Vernon managing to chastise him while remaining as respectful as can be.
And, of course, there’s Martin’s non-apology apology. Which he posted in the comments of someone else’s sci fi blog (File 770 is a fanzine/news site and I rely on it for news about the genre, yes, but it is still technically Mike Glyer’s blog). He hasn’t posted it on his one platform or anything.
I collected many, many, many more links to other people writing about their experiences as a nominee waiting to find out whether they won or lost, or from some of the presents, or as a former nominee watching, et cetera. But I think the collection above covers the majority of the issues (and lots of the linked posts include more links to other posts, so…)
I wanted to write about this not to repeat what others have said, but to comment on a couple aspects of it that I found personally astonishing. I listened to the livestream as it happened. I unfortunately was stuck in an interminable work day, so had the livestream playing on my personal laptop and listening on my airpods while I was working and occasionally looking over at the feed. So it took me at least 45 minutes before I thought, “My god, George, shut up!” because he hadn’t announced any nominees or any winners, yet!
In his non-apology Martin first justifies the extremely long walks down a very specific part of memory lane because New Zealand had never hosted a WorldCon before, therefore most of the local fans probably knew nothing about WorldCons, their history, of the history of the Hugo Awards.
My eyes bugged out. WorldCon didn’t come to New Zealand on its own like an alien invasion! Fans who live in New Zealand and host their own local science fiction conventions organized a bid committee, doing the years of work necessary to make a bid to host a WorldCon. They made a compelling enough case to garner enough votes and got it. They would not have organized a bid committee to try to host WorldCon if they didn’t bloody already know what WorldCon is! And even if somehow they didn’t know, I’m pretty sure all the sci fi fans in New Zealand know how to do a Google search.
What a baffling, patronizing, and condescending thing to say! But if he really thinks that way, that says more about his own hubris and lack of awareness than anything.
Moving on. He also says that all those anecdotes he told are tried and true stories that have always previously managed to get a laugh. I have a few issues with that…
Before I can explain my first objection, I need to give a little background. The purpose of this background is not to pile on GRRM even more, but to provide context. There have been a few times over the course of my life where I have decided that I wanted to have nothing to do with George or his writing. The first was in the mid-80s when I washed my hands of the Wild Cards series. A bit over a decade later some friends tried to get me to read A Song of Ice and Fire, and enough time had passed that I had actually forgotten the name of the guy who organized Wild Cards… but very quickly the same issues that had bounced me out before came up, and I noped-out again. Then there was last year’s Hugo Losers Party and his very tone deaf, whiny, defensive non-apology. The point is, that for 35 years I have actively avoided him. If he’s at conventions I’m attending, I don’t go to his panels. I only ever read his blog if someone I trust links to a specific entry and says it’s worth looking at, and so forth. Not because I hate him, but because I don’t care for his writing or his use of particularly objectionable tropes (and what that says about his personal values).
For 35 years I have actively avoided him, and yet, I have heard nearly every one of the anecdotes he shared at this ceremony several times. I’ve heard the one that includes his head being covered with whipped cream so many times, that I think I could recite it from memory—including all of his pauses and the points where for whatever reason he puts the emphasis on a different syllable than normal.
If I (who tries to avoid him) have heard most of these before, then I can’t help but think a lot of other people in sf/f circles have heard them before, too.
These anecdotes do contain interesting nuggets of information, and they would be appropriate in a panel about the history of sci fi fandom (or at least the part of fandom that attended WorldCons) in the 1970s and 1980s. The anecdotes about the earlier years of the Hugos and the banquet and such would be fine as part of a panel about the history of the awards. But they shouldn’t all be shared during an awards ceremony!
For my third objection, I need to mention that in college I competed in debate and speech competitions, and several times I won trophies in the Toastmaster/After Dinner Speaking Category. One year I was the Western U.S. Regional Champion in that category.
So as someone with some experience in this area, I have to say that all of Martin’s anecdotes are too long and plodding. There is a lot of filler material, so that the punchline, when it arrives, feels more like a band-aid being painfully and torturously peeled off a partially healed wound instead of a sharp delightful surprise. I’m not saying they aren’t completely unfunny at all, it’s just that they could really do with a bit of workshopping and trimming, okay?
The period of WorldCon and sf/f and fandom history he focused on was a fraction—less than 30 years out of the 81 years since the very first WorldCon. And the people he focuses on in those years were a very specific subset of all the authors, artists, and editors contributing to the genre during those years. Yes, he name-checked a couple of women of that era, but there were no stories that any of them figured in. How many times did he refer to Heinlein as the Dean of Science Fiction? Did he even once mention the Queen of Space Opera, Leigh Brackett?
No. He did not. Based on who appears in his anecdotes—and which of the past greats of the genre he feels compelled to lionize—we can safely infer that he thinks they are the only ones who mattered. It’s a very small circle that (to paraphrase Jeanette Ng) was mostly sterile, white, male, and heterosexual.
I’m only 11 years younger that George. I grew up reading all of those same stories by those very writers. They are what made me a fan. They are an important part of why I went on to write sf/f myself, to publish a zine, and to continue writing now. But they weren’t the only ones making science fiction and fantasy at the time, nor were they the only ones reading it.
And we are long past the time when we should be pretending they are the only ones that matter.
The Reading Outlaw has done a super-cut of the ceremony, removing the long rambling stories and including all of the wonderful, heartfelt acceptance speeches. You should take a look: When The Toastmaster Talks Less:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
But my previous blog post leans heavily to one side of an issue which I think needs more discussion—evenhanded discussion. As Cora Buhlert pointed out, many of us who complained about that one aspect of the Retro Hugos failed “to mention that Leigh Brackett and Margaret Brundage, two awesome women who went unrecognised in their lifetimes, also won Retro Hugos this year.” Those two wins were well-deserved and marked incredibly overdue recognition of creators who had contributed much to the genre. And they weren’t the only thing that the Retro Hugos got right.
First, a complete list of the 1945 Retro Hugo Award winners is here. Now, my thoughts:
I was really pleased that Leigh Brackett won Best Novel for “Shadow Over Mars.” It was the story I placed in slot number one on my ballot, but I didn’t have much hope, because even though her career as a science fiction writer spanned form the mind 1920s until the early 1980s, and despite having been described as “the Queen of the Space Opera” she isn’t talked about one one-hundredth as much as certain so-called great men of science fiction whose careers often were much shorter than hers. Before this Retro Hugo, the only Hugo she had won was awarded some months after her death, as one of the screen writers for The Empire Strikes Back. Only one of her novels, The Long Tomorrow, was nominated during her lifetime and that was 1956. I had been afraid that either the Olaf Stapledon novel (which wasn’t bad) or the one by E. Mayne Hull & A.E. van Vogt (which is quite bad) would win because Stapledon and van Vogt are talked about and their works are included in retrospective anthologies more regularly.
I was equally stoked by Margaret Brundage’s win in Best Professional Artist. For 15 years Brundage was the cover artist for Weird Tales, and she also did a lot of interior illustration. The covers at first glance will remind you of other lurid covers that always seem to have scantily clad damsels in distress on them, but Brundage’s were subtly different. The women on her covers were far less likely to be hysterical or fainting. If the scene called for the woman to be tortured or threatened, Brundage would show that, but she usually showed them fighting back. While there were people who suggest Weird Tales should be banned because some found the covers lewd, Robert E. Howard once admitted in an interview that letters from his fans always mentioned how much they loved Brundage’s art, and he claimed he started adding scenes to his stories which he thought might make Brundage more likely to select his story for a cover. Back to the outcries about the cover: the editors of Weird Tales revealed that M. Brundage was a woman to deflect some of the objections to the covers, and there were a rather large number of people who didn’t believe it was possible for a woman to draw that competently. She definitely is overdue for some recognition!
Theodore Sturgeon’s win in Best Novella for “Killdozer!” is not surprising. “Killdozer!” happens to be a pretty good story and Sturgeon is not a total unknown to modern voters. It was in second place on my ballot (behind Brackett’s “The Jewel of Bas”), which I liked quite a bit more. “A God Named Kroo” by Henry Kuttner (another quite good story) was in third place on my ballot, followed by “Intruders from the Stars” by Ross Rocklynne. So I wasn’t unhappy with this category, but it’s hard to know how many votes for “Killdozer!” were due to name recognition.
A similar problem happens in Best Novelette with Clifford D. Simak’s “City,” because Simak is well-known, and entire City series is popular enough that it is still in print. However, I don’t think this particular story was outstanding compared to the rest of the ballot. I thought “The Children’s Hour”, by Lawrence O’Donnell (pseudonym for C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner), “No Woman Born”, by C.L. Moore, and “When the Bough Breaks”, by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner) were all better stories. The one thing that gives me some hope that Simak didn’t win just because of name recognition is that Asimov was also in this list (with a mediocre story, IMHO), so if name recognition were the only driving force, he probably would have won.
Ray Bradbury’s win in Best Short Story for “I, Rocket” isn’t surprising on its own. I personally thought of the stories on this ballot that it was the third best (behind Simak’s “Desertion” and van Vogt’s “Far Centaurus”). Mind you, “I, Rocket” is a good story. But Bradbury had a few much better short stories published in 1944. I mean, I’m not complaining that much, because even a mediocre Bradbury is more interesting that a lot of other writer’s merely good tales. I just happen to think that Bradbury’s “The Jar” and “The Lake” and much better Bradbury stories.
Leigh Brackett’s win in Best Related Work for “The Science-Fiction Field” is a bit of surprise if for no other reason than that it was one of the nominees that wasn’t available anywhere online. I had forgotten it exists until I saw it in one of the Retro nomination suggestion lists. After reading a summary I had a vague memory of having read it, and had to go by that recollection and some reviews to decide where to put it on my ballot.
Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster winning Best Graphic Story or Comic with Superman: “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” can only be explained as name recognition and the fondness for more recent Superman stories. I had this story at dead last on my ballot. Both Flash Gordons and the Donald Duck story were in the top three positions because, well, Alex Raymond and Carl Barks were among the best comic artists of that decade. Full disclosure: when I was a kid one of my Aunts bought me a collection of trade paperback sized collections of reprints of a whole bunch of old Donald Duck comics, and this story happened to be in there! I actually have a physical copy at that nominee in my house! I also thought (once I tracked it down) that the Spirit story was better than this particular Superman comic. It just is not a good example of the series.
Since The Canterville Ghost and The Curse of the Cat People were number 1 and 2 on my ballot, respectively, I’m quite happy that they tied for Best Dramatic Presentation. There isn’t more to say here, other than, even 13-year-old me (who was the biggest diehard fan of the Universal Frankenstein movies) was shocked that such a stinker as House of Frankenstein even made the ballot!
I think the most important thing I can say about the Best Fan Writer category is, that if it hadn’t been for such modern fan-created websites like The 1945 Retro Hugo Awards Spreadsheet, Retro Science Fiction Reviews, and the like, I would have had no idea who to nominate other than the same old white (sexual harasser) guy who tended to always when in this decade. Fritz Leiber won six Hugos in his lifetime for professional stories, but like many pros, he was also extremely active in unpaid fan work. So I’m not at all unhappy with this win.
In my previous post I talked about the Best Editor category, but I want to repeat here that from my reading of scans I could find of old issues of the various zines that were being edited by the nominees in this category, Amazing Stories and Weird Tales (Raymond A. Palmer and Dorothy McIlwraith) published more good stories than Astounding that year. Planet Stories (edited by W. Scott Peacock) seemed to be a tie with Astounding in the ratio of good stories to bad. And I should note that the winner of the Retro Hugo for Fan Writer, that essay by Leigh Brackett? According to that essay, at the time Planet Stories was considered hands-down the superior publisher of accurate science in its science fiction. So all those grouchy old white guys who keep insisting Astounding and Campbell were beloved and revered above all others at the time and were the undisputed champions of science—they can sit on something unpleasant and spin.
Now we come to another category that has a lot of people up in arms: the Cthulhu Mythos winning Best Series. Before I begin, I need to point out that for the last five years I have been running a homebrew Cthulhu-based rollplaying game with a bunch of my friends. I have written stories that were intentionally meant to evoke the Cthulhu Mythos. I own a lot of modern anthologies, novels, and novellas by various people set in that kind of universe.
Despite enjoying the concepts of the Mythos, I put it dead last on my ballot (and considered putting it below No Award) for a number of reasons. The first is that in 1944, when works must be published to be eligible for this award, most of what I consider well-written Cthulhu-mythos stories had not been written. Of the works published in 1944, Captain Future, the Shadow, and Doc Savage were infinitely better. Most of the Jules de Grandin stories were also superior (though the best, IMHO, were published between 1921 and 1930 and I was shocked when I saw it on the ballot because I didn’t realize an eligible entry had been printed in 1944) Burroughs’ Pellucidar series was more than a bit uneven, so kind of a tie, quality-wise in my opinion. And I should disclose that I was irritated that, so far as I could tell, the far superior Monsieur Zenith had no qualifying stories published that year. Another reason not related to Lovecraft’s blatant racism (that is the driving force of many of his stories in this cycle), is that the Mythos was listed as being created by Lovecraft, Derleth “and others.” And honestly, by far most of the good stuff in the series was created by those unnamed others. So even wording this nomination that way makes this an undesirable thing to vote for.
If you read nothing of this post except the previous paragraph, you should be able to infer that I am quite interested in and fond of a whole lot of sci fi, fantasy, weird tales, and mysterious fiction published many, many decades before I was born. I was born in the ’60s, but my mom was a sci fi fan before I was born. From my infancy, she read to me from the sci fi books she had most recently checked out from the library or bought from a used book store. Of course I am familiar with the works of all those problematic guys from the 40s and 50s (and beyond!)1. All those stories shaped my love and curiosity for more fiction of the fantastic. And I think that there is value, for those interested, in having some familiarity with some of those old stories.
But I also think that if those of us who have knowledge of those old stories are going to recommend things to modern fans, they need to be things we have double-checked to make sure they really are as good as we remember. During a previous Retro Hugos ballot, some old stories written by an author who for decades was my favorite were on the ballot. They were stories I had read many, many, many years ago and had very fond memories of. I decided the ballot was a great excuse to re-read these old beloved favorites.
The Suck Fairy had been extremely busy working on those stories. The Suck Fairy had been so busy on those stories, that when I saw more stories from the same series by the same author had been nominated for Retros this year, I decided to just put them in last place on my ballot without re-reading, because I would rather keep the happy, golden versions of those stories that exists in my imperfect memory than see that the tales were not as good as I thought.
Which brings us to some of the many discouraging issues that have embroiled the fandom on the fast few days. There are people who created great work 40, 50, or 60 years ago, who tend to be venerated now, and who are themselves living in the happy golden imperfectly remembered version of sci fi/fantasy stores that were written 70, 80, 90, or more years ago. They only remember the parts that resonated with them. They don’t remember the racism, the sexism, the colonialism, the homophobia, and other bigotries that were sometimes blatant, but almost always present to some degree in those works. So some of them genuinely do not understand why a lot of us are not as enamored with those days as they or in the same way that they are.
There are a lot of diamonds to be found among all that fool’s gold. And I think, if we can keep projects such as the Retro Hugo Awards Spreadsheet and the Retro Science Fiction Reviews up-to-date and available to modern fans, it is possible that through the mechanism of the Retro Hugos, we can bring recognition to many of those who deserve more credit for the foundations of the genre than the simple repeating of received wisdom has made available.
1, I want to note, for the record, that while when I was a small child one of Mom’s favorite authors was Heinlein, her current obsession is the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal2. If my Mom, who is in her late-70s, can evolve with the genre, than 71-year-old GRRM has no excuse.
2. Her next most recent obsession was the work of Ellen Klages, so you can see that Mom has excellent taste!
In 1994 the World Science Fiction Society approved the awarding of Retrospective Hugos for those years when there had been a WorldCon, but no Hugos. WorldCons aren’t required to award them. Also, Retro Hugos awards are allowed only for specific years: 50, 75, or 100 years before the current Worldcon, and only if another WorldCon hasn’t already awarded Retro Hugos for that year.
The original idea was that the Retro Hugos can only be given out 11 times—for the years 1939, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1954. Because there was no WorldCon from 1942-1945, due to World War II. A recent rule change now allows for awards for those war years, as well, which is how we got to the ceremony earlier this week at CoNZealand where Retro Hugos for 1945 were handed out.
When I first heard about the idea, I thought it was a good one. People were creating and reading (or viewing) science fiction in those years, and it made sense that the organizations handing out awards for excellence in sf/f should look at award-worthy stuff during that time. It gives fans a chance to read stories with which they are unfamiliar and learn about the history of this genre we love, right? And if gives us, as a community, and opportunity to recognize some works and creators who are less famous today.
In practice, I’m not sure things have exactly worked out that way.
A lot of the Retro Hugos have gone to people who are still famous today (and who often had received plenty of awards while they were still alive). And it isn’t even because those are the best stories that made it to the ballot from that year. Several of the Retro Hugos have gone to rather mediocre stories from early in the careers of people who went on later to write much better stuff.
In other words, it seems that a lot of voters aren’t actually reading the nominated works, but rather picking works that are written by people they have heard of.
It it difficult to track down some of these old stories, I get it. Even though there are wonderful fan blogs out there publishing lists of links to where you can find these tales (since they have often fallen into the public domain many are available for free). As a voter myself, I admit that each time it has been a struggle to read everything nominated from both the regular Hugo ballot and the Retro Hugo ballot during the time between when the ballots are announced and when voting closes.
An even more difficult category is Best Editor, Short Form. Which is, in practical terms, an award for best magazine editor. So in order to do one’s due diligence this year, for instance, you would have to peruse all of the issues published in the eligibility year of the at least the magazines Astounding Stories, Weird Tales, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Planet Stories.
That’s a lot of 75-year-old magazines to track down.
And if, like me, you track down scanned versions of the old zines at places like the Internet Archive, probably your first reaction will be a lot of “WTF?” because all the ‘zines from that era printed a lot of stuff which would never pass muster today. A month or so ago it shouldn’t have surprised me at how much WTF-material there was (because this is hardly my first time looking at stories and magazines from the time), yet it did a bit. It’s amazing how quickly we forget the weird stuff, the poorly written stories you couldn’t force yourself to finish, and so on. You remember the stories you thought weren’t bad (and sometimes even quite good) more than the other stuff.
If you aren’t willing to do that, you’re going to fall back (as the voters did this year), and the name you know: John f-ing Campbell, yet again.
I haven’t read every single issue of Astounding (later renamed Analog) Campbell ever edited, but I’ve read enough to draw an opinion of his skills as an editor overall. Looking at the stories he published in the year under questions, to the extent I could in the time frame, I found his selection of stories to be overall, mediocre. Yes, there was good stuff in there, but the was a lot more meh than wow.
I believe strong arguments can be made for at least two of the other nominees to be ranked above Campbell in this particular year. But if you point that out, people come back with basically three counter-arguments:
- Everyone knows that Astounding was hands-down the best sci fi ‘zine of the time so who else could anyone vote for,
- Campbell’s influence over the field dwarfs everyone else so who else could anyone vote for,
- I liked more of the stories in the Astounding issues I sampled than in the others so…
The third of those arguments is the only one with any legitimacy. But let’s deal with the first two before I tackle the third.“Everyone knows” is simply a really bad reason to make any decision. We’re talking about very subjective things here, for one. And for most people it’s all second-hand knowledge at best. Most contemporary fans weren’t alive 75 years ago, let alone comprehensibly reading everything that was published. And cultural artifacts don’t survive equally. Astounding appealed to a certain demographic who, for a variety of reasons, are much more likely to live and remain active in a particularly hobby for many years than some others. The demographic has also, historically, had its preferences elevated above other groups, whose preferences and activities are often erased from history.
Also, the Suck Fairy has had 75 years to visit those publications. You shouldn’t fall back on the received wisdom without verifying for yourself.
As to the second argument, well, Donald J. Trump’s influence over the United States right now dwarfs everyone else, but it hardly means historians should be handing him a “Best President” trophy. I know that metaphor is a stretch, but the point is that having a lot of influence isn’t the same thing as using that influence well. And again, how much of Campbell’s influence was due to him, and how much is it due to that ability of the demographic he most appealed to to have an outsized impact on how the time period is remembered?
That third argument is a reasonable reason to determine who you vote for, I agree. But at least some of the people I’ve seen making that argument don’t stop at “this is why I voted for him,” they went on and tacked on the “…so who else could anyone vote for?”
Judging the editor categories is always difficult. Most people approach it by voting for the nominee who published the stuff the individual voter liked most.
That’s not the only criteria one ought to consider, in my opinion. Full disclosure: for over twenty years I edited a very small ‘zine that printed science fiction. Our circulation was never over about 300, but we also knew we were aiming at a particular niche. Still, it means I judge editors by more than just whether I like every story they publish. I didn’t limit myself, as an editor, to publishing only stories I thought were award-worthy and would stand the test of time. I picked stories because I thought my readers would like them and were worth their time and attention. Another quality I judge editors on is how well they seem to know their audience. If I have information about how they treat the writers they work with and the staff of their publications, I let that influence me, too.
Because giving your audience things they will enjoy (which isn’t the same thing as fan service, but that’s another discussion), cultivating writers, and managing staff are all also part of the job of an editor.
If I only voted for the editors whose publications I loved (and only stories I loved, et cetera), there would have been a lot more No Awards on my Hugo ballots over the last five years. I can look at something that isn’t to my particular taste and say, “Well, I don’t like that, but I know a lot of people do, and this seems to be a competent execution/exploration of a topic I don’t care for” and go ahead and vote for it. It’ll just be lower on my ballot than other things.
None of this is to say that no one has a right to vote for Campbell in the Retros. The question I raise in the title of this blog post is about whether the Retro Hugos are actually recognizing things that are award-worthy, or merely handing out trophies to nominees based on received wisdom instead of merit.
Unfortunately, the jury is still out.
Edited to add: Not many minutes after this published, one reader pointed out a copy-and-paste blunder that ate one whole sentence and part of a word.
Then another pointed out that my question is sort rhetorical for at least the next year, since the 1946 Retros were given out at LA Con III back in 1996, so it won’t be until 2022 that the question will come up again. To which I say, an amendment to the WSF Constitution has to be passed at two WorldCons before taking effect, though we don’t need a rule change if the organizers of 2022 and later conventions can be convinced that maybe these aren’t a great idea…
ETA 2: As always, Cora Buhlert writes much more informatively and nicely than I do on a fannish subject: Some Thoughts on the 1945 Retro Hugo Winners.
ETA 3: I wrote a rebuttal to this a big later: It shouldn’t require a keymaster to have fun, or, canon and other forms of gatekeeping in sf/f.
And Cora Buhlert wrote more elequantly on the same topic and included a lot links to other people writing on the same topic: Why the Retro Hugos Have Value.
Lots of other people have written about U.S. Representative John Lewis. He was one of many fighting in the civil rights movement from the Nashville Student Movement in 1960, through the Freedom Rides and beyond. He was one of the “Big Six” organizers of the 1963 March On Washington (and until his death last week, he was the last survivor of the Big Six). He was beaten by police, arrested, had dog set on him, received countless death threats, but he never backed down. And eventually, he became not just an activist, but a member of Congress.
He was an American Hero from early on.
But he became one of my personal heroes in 1996. Bill Clinton had run for President on a promise to bring equal rights to the LGBT community, but instead he caved to pressure from the Republicans, conservative Democrats, and (even more problematic) timid Democrats. Instead of equality, he created the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy for the armed services, which instead of making it easier for queer people to serve, significantly increased the number of discharges for being gay. And he also ultimately signed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which made it illegal for the federal government to recognized marriages of same-sex couples if states decided to extend those rights, and also exempted states from recognizing those marriages from other states (a clear violation of the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution).
John Lewis was not one of the timid Democrats. He rose in opposition to the act. He spoke passionately about why he would vote against it.
“This bill is a slap in the face of the Declaration of Independence. It denies gay men and women the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage is a basic human right.”
—Rep. John Lewis, explaining why he was voting against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in 1996
Unfortunately, the law passed. And we would have to wait for the Supreme Court to finally rule it unconstitutional in 2012.
That wasn’t the only time that John Lewis—a straight Black man, raised in the south, and an ordained Southern Baptist preacher—fought for LGBT rights.
“I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”
—Rep. John Lewis, in an op-ed he wrote for the Boston Globe in 2003
“As a nation, we cannot say we are committed to equality, if we do not mandate equality for every citizen. You cannot have equality for some in America and not equality for all. This is another major step down a very long road toward the realization of a fair and just society. We should embrace the decision of the United States Supreme Court. It is now the law of the land.”
—Rep. John Lewis, commenting after the Supreme Court legalized Marriage Equality in 2015
I had really hoped that Rep. Lewis would live long enough to see us oust the fascist from the White House. I guess we’ll have to do in on our own.
Every time I see another headline about Lewis’s death, tears come to my eyes. We have lost a giant.
Rise in glory, John Lewis.
Rest in power, sir.
The clip wasn’t a parody, let’s make that clear.
Most of the people who were shocked were either too young to have been alive in the 1960s, or too young to remember that time. At the time blatantly racist beliefs were considered not just a legitimate opinion to hold, but was largely accepted as reasonable interpretation of reality. Now, there were always people who thought those beliefs were wrong, but they were still very much in the minority when this particular show was recorded.
That minority was growing. Over the next many years more and more people came to the conclusion that not only were those racist beliefs factually incorrect, but that adhering to them was seen as immoral. A tipping point was reached, and there was a wave in which a number of conservative pundits and opinion columnists and such found themselves being dropped by mainstream news organizations.
And they freaked out a bit.
The freak out is understandable. For example, a particular columnist got fired by the New York Times, I think it was, after writing a column criticizing busing (where students were bused to schools further from their neighborhood in order to try to achieve racial balance in public schools). And it wasn’t the criticism of bussing itself that got him fired, it was the fact that one of the reasons he said desegregation of schools was bad was because the white students would be held back by the Black and Latino students because the latter were obviously less intelligent. It was an assertion the columnist had made many times in editorials before this one, so you can understand why he thought it was still a legitimate argument.
The expectations of polite society had shifted around him, and he had failed to keep up. A year earlier, it was still socially acceptable to believe white people were inherently mentally superior to people of other ethnicities. You could express that belief in print and in person and still be welcome at people’s parties and so forth. Many might disagree with him a year or more earlier, but they still viewed it as a topic upon which reasonable people could disagree. And then, you couldn’t any longer.
Racism didn’t end. What changes was how blatantly racist someone could be and still get accepted in polite society.
Plenty of conservatives adapted. They figured out ways to continue making arguments for their positions using euphemisms and dog whistles. Maybe even a small number saw the light, somewhat, and recognized that systemic social and economic biases were what caused the disparities they saw between the races. But it was almost certainly an extremely small number.
I bring this long anecdote up to set some context to a much more recent hot topic. Changing social norms of what expressions of bigotry are considered acceptable isn’t something new. It is an ongoing thing. And while it is a gradual thing, these tipping point moments can catch some privileged people by surprise. It seems sudden and even disconcerting to them, in part because they usually go through much of live in a bubble of privilege.
And to clarify, I don’t mean that only rich people live in these bubbles. Privilege takes many forms. One of those forms is that people who disagree often don’t feel safe (physically, socially, financially) to express their disagreement. People who stand up for themselves or challenge certain kinds of comments in various social or work situations are perceived as “making waves” or “creating unnecessary conflict” and “not being a team player.” So, speaking up when a co-worker makes a misogynist or homophobic or transphobic joke carries a risk of everything from not being considered for promotion to being let go.
So people who are offended, feel attacked, or otherwise disagree with the sentiments—whether expressed explicitly or implied—learn to laugh nervously and change the topic, or otherwise not rock the boat. This perpetuates the mistaken belief of the bigot that what they said is perfectly reasonable. Some people laughed, right?
And it isn’t just the workplace where these bubbles happen.
The bubbles can insulate people holding those bigoted views right up until that tipping point is reached.
The recent flurries of pushback from the bigots has been to try to appeal to free speech and to bemoan so-called cancel culture. There are two problems here: you can’t make a free speech argument when you are specifically trying to silence your critics. And marginalized people have been “canceled”—losing jobs, entire careers—for years. When I mentioned above about losing one’s job for speaking up? That’s something that happens to women, people of color, queer people, trans people, and so forth all the time.
The reason these guys are upset is because it’s happening to them instead of to us. More of us feel we can speak up about other people’s bigotry, and we are. They were perfectly happy to live in the bubble and watch others miss out on promotions, lose their jobs, sometimes get driven out of neighborhoods, et cetera. But suddenly some people are actually subjecting them to (in most cases) mild consequences, and suddenly they think they are the victims.
No. They have been the privileged aggressors acting like jerks to other people. It’s not that suddenly people are offended by things that used to be just fine. Those those were always offensive. All that’s happened is that far fewer people are willing to give these jerks a free pass.
‟Speech without consequence isn’t free, it’s privilege. And more and more, we are using free expression and digital tools to fight back against harassment that has always been there—but for which it’s never been the harassers’ problem to deal with.
And if these hypersensitive men can’t deal with responses to their abusive behavior online, maybe the Internet isn’t for them.”
This isn’t what I thought I’d be writing about today, but here we are! I missed this piece of local news over the weekend: Confederate memorial toppled at Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery in Capitol Hill. The first time I wrote about Confederate monuments and why I thought most of them should be torn down was in 2017 (a post which I republished recently with a little bit of additional commentary). In that post I talked about one of those monuments here in my local community:
Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the [civil] war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery. There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one. And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers, a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.
I have since learned that some of facts in the above paragraph are an over simplification. Some of the land in the cemetery was donated to the Grand Army of the Republic, and at least 11 Union veterans are buried there. But the cemetery holds a bunch of other people (included actor Bruce Lee). But one fact that is still not in dispute: there are no Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
The Confederate Monument was erected near the graves of the 11 Union soldiers, though. It makes as much sense to have a Confederate monument in that cemetery as it would to erect a monument to the army of Nazi Germany in a military cemetery full of U.S. World War II veterans.
Each time that organizations like the Daughters of the Confederacy have gone on these binges of raising money for monuments and then bullying local governments into letting them be erected, has been a time where racist groups have felt a need to terrorize black people. The purpose of those monuments is not to teach history. They are meant as both propaganda and a threat.
A local news blog I read all the time posted a story today which only partially answers the question it poses in its headline: Wait, Why the Hell Does Seattle Have a Confederate Monument?
Yes, the Daughters of the Confederacy got the monument placed in the cemetery, in part by not just paying for the monument’s construction, but by making a donation to the non-profit that owns and manages the cemetery. A non-profit which has, by the way, ofter struggled with raising enough funds to adequately maintain the grounds. I think it is very interesting to note that no one at the non-profit wants to talk publicly about the monument.
In response to the news of this toppled monument, I’ve seen a couple people on social media try to put forward a “what-about-ism” argument because there is another monument in the cemetery which honors people who aren’t buried there. This is the Nisei War Memorial Monument, which was originally raised to honor 47 local Japanese Americans who served and died in World War II. In many cases the bodies were never returned to the U.S. I haven’t found a list of how many of those soldiers whose bodies were returned wound up in this cemetery, but apparently more than one did. Additionally, local Japanese American soldiers who served in the U.S. military and were killed in action in subsequent wars have had their names added to the monument
There is a very big difference between a memorial that lists actual names of local people who died in a war (at least a couple of whom are buried in the same cemetery), and one that lists no local names (and for that matter, no names at all!).
The local Japanese American community has been an important part of the history of Seattle and the surrounding area for about 140 years. The Confederacy—which barely existed for five years!—has absolutely no connection to Seattle. There is no good reason for a Confederate monument to be here, only a lot of bad reasons.