“The problem is that SFWA is broken.”
Someone actually said this in the comment section of my last blog post. It’s a disturbing message, especially given the rumblings that appear in certain discussion groups and forums. Apparently some of the “Old Guard” were not pleased that their latest attempt at a palace coup has met with resistance and mockery. They are now discussing even more destructive measures: they want to dissolve the Science Fiction Writers of America entirely.
Yes, I know. It’s hard to decide if this appallingly ridiculous, or ridiculously appalling. But no, I am not joking. Apparently there are people who claim to love science fiction and value free speech…who would rather destroy SFWA than allow the new generation of professional science fiction writers to determine, by popular vote, what ethical standards and practices should be adopted by the guild’s trade journal and official communications channels (blogs, Twitter feed, etc.).
Saddened and annoyed as I was about the Truesdale petition and its incredibly depressing list of signatories, the idea of destroying SFWA entirely over this nonsense makes me genuinely angry.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating in this context: the Survey that was circulated in 2013 by SFWA was an attempt to find a democratic solution to an obvious problem of differing values within our community. The goal was to find out what the values and needs of the majority were. The Survey achieved that goal.
Steps were taken to bring SFWA into line with the values and views of that majority. And if you actually believed in democratic institutions and ideals at all, this should have been the end of the drama. Because Democracy does not work when the losers cannot accept the results of an election or referendum with grace, and find some way to work within the system peacefully.
Sadly, though, it didn’t turn out to be the end of that story. Instead, we have a big embarrassing mess to deal with.
All this being said…I do not take any part of this eruption of discord as “proof that SFWA is broken”.
I do not take this as evidence that SFWA is lacking in vision or leadership.
On the contrary. What it says to me is that SFWA is evolving, changing for the better, and that some people are so arrogant and mean-spirited that they would prefer to destroy and break SFWA rather than accept change.
There is no way to avoid the reality staring us in the face. The level of discourse from the “Old Guard” faction is really quite disturbing. Some of the people fueling this engine of chaos are seething with such virulent rage that I really think they’re going to need something a little stronger than “hot cocoa” to calm them down.
But let me make this clear, even if everything else is very muddy:
The actions and words of such people say very little about SFWA as a whole.
Let me repeat this, because I genuinely believe it.
SFWA is not to blame because a few people in the greater science fiction community at large happen to be Crazypants.
SFWA is actually a pretty fine institution, in my opinion. It adds a lot to the lives of professional science fiction writers. I’ve enjoyed reading my copies of the Bulletin, for the most part, despite a few regrettable articles or covers. I’ve gotten tremendous value from the Writer Beware blog, which is partially sponsored by SFWA (and also by the Horror Writers of America, an institution which I also belong to). I’ve seen that the SFWA forums tend to offer civil discourse and valuable information. SFWA provides many opportunities for new and veteran writers of science fiction to be recognized and promoted to new readers and lovers of the genre. And SFWA will always have value as a locus for peer recognition–the Nebula Awards for excellence in science fiction media.
No, it’s true that I do not involve myself in SFWA politics, run for offices, or get too wrapped up in campaigning for awards and what-not. I have lived a quiet life for many years writing science fiction and fantasy and horror in an industry that rewards my talents with a modest living wage. I already consider myself fortunate to be able to do the work that I do. I’ve been happy that SFWA provides me with information and ideas to improve my income, encourages me to write better fiction, and gives me the chance to support my peers in the pursuit of excellence.
That being said…I also know that SFWA serves another important function: it empowers all professional science fiction writers to defend our legal rights.
I pay my dues to support my peers and reward the good work they do when it’s time to vote for the Nebulas…but I also pay those dues to make sure that science fiction writers have a collective voice in our dealings with publishers, agents and media corporations. That collective voice is and WILL ALWAYS BE needed. And honestly, anyone who has lost sight of this fact, and thinks that SFWA is a plaything that they can casually destroy because a few lunatics have their rubber panties in a bunch….needs a reminder of the wisdom of Solomon.
SFWA belongs in the custody of those who love it and wish for it to continue to live and grow. SFWA belongs to people who are willing to defend the economic and legal best interests of ALL professional science fiction writers.
It should not be placed in the hands of those who would casually destroy it for the sake of ego and entitlement.
On a slightly different note, there is another message that bears repeating:
Whether we like the future or not…we cannot stop the future from coming.
It is already here.
Science fiction is already becoming more gender-equal, more culturally diverse. There is already greater and greater contact between different international communities of writers and readers.There is already more and more cross-cultural influence as vibrant traditions of different nations and peoples collide.
Science fiction already belongs to everyone. You can’t own it. You can’t keep it to yourself. You can’t restrict access to it. It isn’t your personal country club, with no “disreputable women or darkies allowed”.
You can no more stop the changes happening in this field and in the world around us than you can hold back the sea with a wooden sword.
Science fiction is the literature of the future. At minimum, a guild for science fiction writers needs to reflect the realities of the present. It seems to me that a lot of this drama we’re wading through right now is being fueled by people who are stuck in the past…and who cannot accept that it is 2014, not 1954. They think that women and minorities and wise-ass whippersnappers just don’t know their place.
But maybe the “insects” and “rabble” do know their place. And maybe this time they’re not going to get up and move to the back of the bus. And if you honestly think the solution to this little disagreement is to blow up the bus?
Maybe that tells us everything we really need to know about your visionary leadership.
I’m just sayin’.