Originally published February 15, 2016:
I know I start to sound like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory when I say this sort of thing, but the holiday we’re celebrating today is not named “Presidents’ Day,” it is “Washington’s Birthday Observance.” I’ve written before about how the myth that the holiday is President’s Day got started and why it is so persistent. I’ve also written about the reasons why there has never been a federal holiday dedicated to Lincoln.
But especially because of those racist reasons that have prevented a Federal holiday recognizing Lincoln, I think it’s important to remember that this holiday is not Presidents’ Day, unless you’re in one of the 10 states that have a state holiday this day which is called President’s Day (my state isn’t one of them). Five states still recognize a state holiday for Lincoln (Illinois, California, Connecticut, Missouri, and New York), though schools and state offices often remain open on that day.
And don’t get me started on the fact that because Washington’s Birthday Observance happens on the third Monday of February, George’s actual birthday, February 22, never lands on his Federal holiday. For shame!
I need to get my other hosting issues sorted out and get a couple of my other sites back up on the web. But a conversation elseweb made me dig out this essay I wrote and first published 22 years ago and resurrect it on this blog. Homophobia is not a recent development in the sci fi community. But also neither is allyship, so:
(Originally published 18 June, 1999)
Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) was one of America’s finest writers. He was one of the great figures of the Golden Age of science fiction. During his lifetime he produced over 200 stories, several novels, film and tv scripts (including two of the most famous episodes of the original “Star Trek” series), plays, and dozens of non-fiction reviews and essays. His many literary awards include the Hugo, the Nebula, and the International Fantasy Award.
Sturgeon wrote such great fiction because his philosophy was “Always ask the next question.” He even created a symbol or personal shorthand for “Ask the next question,” a capital “Q” with an arrow through it. He was never satisfied with conventional wisdom or pat answers.
And that tendency got him in big trouble in 1953, making him the central target of an intense “anti-homosexual blacklist” within the publishing community. Prior to the 1970s, it was virtually unheard of for gay men, lesbian, or bisexual characters to appear in any kind of fiction, and when they did, they were either vile villains or tragically flawed creatures who committed suicide before the end of the story. While many science fiction authors were questioning racial stereotypes or decrying McCarthy’s rabid anti-communism, they closed ranks with the rest of the status quo on the question of homosexuality.
Not Theodore Sturgeon. At the time a father of four and somewhat notorious womanizer, Sturgeon still couldn’t help but ask the next question. If racism was wrong, why not sexism and heterosexism? He wrote three short stories in quick succession. The first, “The Silken Swift” was a twist on the unicorn legend that questioned society’s definitions of purity and innocence, while making some comments about the role of women in most cultures. It caused a slight stir, but didn’t seem too far out. Then “The Sex Opposite” started showing up in editor’s mailboxes, in which Sturgeon posited a whole subspecies of humans who could change their gender at will, and whom engaged in long term relationships with members of all three sexes. This provoked a mild uproar, and many editors shied far away from it. Sturgeon started receiving unsolicited advice, some of it implied that people were assuming he was homosexual (because only a “pervert” would even think of portraying such relationships as possible, let alone successful and happy) and suggesting that he tone it down, for the sake of his career.
Which seemed to firm up Sturgeon’s resolve. He sat down at his typewriter and created “The World Well Lost” in which homosexual characters were not only portrayed as normal, well-adjusted people in the future, the story came right out and referred to the homophobic past has a horrible time. Fear and loathing of homosexuals was a sign of an immature society, the story said. This was too much for some people. The editor of the magazine Fantastic, Howard Browne, was so outraged by the tale, not only did he reject it, he immediately started phoning all the other editors he knew to organized a boycott of Sturgeon. Browne wasn’t satisfied with bullying other editors into agreeing never to publish anything from Sturgeon again. He and his cronies promised to completely ruin the career of anyone who dared publish “The World Well Lost” itself.
Ray Palmer was a feisty man who was editor of Universe Science Fiction, a small pulp sci-fi zine at the time. Perhaps it was because Mr. Palmer had suffered from disfiguring disability since childhood, and had little sympathy for bullies, but in any case, Palmer put “The World Well Lost” into a fast track to get it published right away. And he publicly dared Browne’s group to make good on their threat.
Browne’s coalition quickly crumbled, and the “Homosexual Blacklist” faded away before it had a chance to damage any other careers.
Sturgeon kept on asking the next question, never afraid to broach topics just because they were controversial. And Palmer enjoyed a long and successful career in publishing. Thanks to them, other writers in the fifties, sixties, and seventies could explore the subject of homosexuality in a more balanced and tolerant fashion. While it was true that, even into the late seventies, most readers, critics, and editors assumed that any author who wrote such a story was probably gay, bi, or lesbian themselves, it was because of two courageous heterosexual men, Sturgeon and Palmer, that those authors could give us those rare, early glimpses into a world where homophobia was neither common nor acceptable.
This pride month, remember to raise a toast to Theodore Sturgeon and Ray Palmer, two people who knew it was better to do the right thing than to be perceived as the right kind of people. Where ever their spirits are now, I’m sure they are still asking questions.
Randy Rainbow sends the Traitor-in-Chief off with a special ceremony – SEASONS OF TRUMP – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Normally whenever the musical Rent is invoked, I make a comment about how I approve the original, the opera La Bohème, but this made me laugh and cry, so…
There is so much else I want to squeeze in while the Traitor-in-Chief is still technically in charge.
I am a little irritated that the Traitor-in-Chief has knocked George W. Bush off of the top of the list of the worst president in history… but it should come as no surprise.
It’s racism all the way down. Seriously. Racism all the way down..
As I said, it’s racism all the way down. All of the atrocities perpetrated by the Traitor-in-Chief and his supported boil down to applied racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. That are first and foremost haters, and their hatred is backed into every level of capitalism.
The Republicans only call for unity when they or their supports have violated social norms, political norms, or the law. If Republicans are calling for unity, then someone deserves to be prosecuted.
Similarly, they always oppose call for unity from the Democrats, because the democrats actually value unity, while the Republicans only value their own period.
Donald Trump is not just the worst president in history, he is infinitely more corrupt that Richard Nixon, who for decades everyone in both parties regarded as the most corrupt president in history. I suppose that’s an accomplishment, but in a just world it would mean the Donald spends the rest of his life in prison.
“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!