Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
I’m not titling this as news from the publishing hinterlands since it is only one piece of drama. I generally try to avoid drama and gossip and stick to the issues, but some of the stuff going on with the membership of SFWA is rather… remarkable. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America is an association of 1800 members who meet these criteria for membership.
Four times a year, the SFWA publishes The Bulletin, which includes the following:
The cover of the #200 Bulletin featured a “warrior woman” dressed in the metal equivalent of a bikini in the mountains in the snow. Apparently it is “typical of hundreds of genre novel covers.” Many of the “younger SFWA members” criticized the cover, which led to the build up of a drama snowball. (For my two cents here, just because something is prevalent doesn’t make it right.) Here’s the description of it by Resnick and Malzberg:
Take a look at the cover to a recent edition of The SWFA Bulletin, issue number 200. There’s a warrior woman on it. Not a hell of a lot different from a few hundred warrior women who have graced the covers of our field’s books and magazines ever since C. L. Moore (a woman) created Jirel of Joiry. I think the warrior woman is wearing boots, but [though] it’s pretty dark and shaded in that area, I know she [sic] displaying less flesh than just about any bikini you can see on a beach in the country today.
UPDATE #1: Here is a link to the cover, courtesy of Kameron Hurley. I have also learned that it is a “classic” pic of Red Sonja, a character originally created by Robert E. Howard, who also created Conan the Barbarian. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on some of this, but putting this picture on the cover without some historical context is a poor decision.
UPDATE #2: I can’t believe that Red Sonja was chosen on purpose. There isn’t a worse choice for an issue about women in SF publishing. Her family was murdered, and she was brutally raped. She can only have sex with a man if he subdues her in fair combat first. There are soooo many 1930′s issue with this, same as with Wonder Woman. Red Sonja is a trope for any woman who is raped and wants revenge. This is not a positive image when wanting to have a positive discussion about women.
The #202 Bulletin is the most recent point of controversy and was published while BEA (Book Expo America) was taking place in New York last week. It includes an article from Jim C. Hines about cover art and treating women as people, as well as the Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues, arguing against censorship and suppression. (Let’s talk about Hines first, then we’ll come back to the other guys.)
Jim C. Hines (one of my fav authors for the sake of full disclosure) has written many posts about the portrayal of women in genre fiction. Here are a few of my favorites:
While he does it with humor, Hines still makes many serious points about the prevalence of this artwork and some social/industry commentary.
Mike Resnick and Barry H. Malzberg have collaborated over the last several years to write over 50 advice columns for The Bulletin. By way of an unprofessional introduction, these guys are old dudes who have been writing science fiction for over fifty years apiece. Some of their old Dialogues have been published online here.
E. Catherine Tobler has outlined the history of the drama here.
Jim C. Hines has collected many links to members who are critical of the views of Resnick and Malzberg. I have not read them all, but reading through a few of them can give you a fair idea of the kerfuffle.
In particular, Foz Meadow’s post Old Men Yelling at Clouds is one of my favorites, and it has many excerpts from the Dialogues for scrutiny by the general public. Here’s a couple of choice gems, although I recommend reading the full post:
These days it’s difficult to go to a movie – or even turn on the cable TV – without seeing a bunch of naked bodies and a bunch of blood. So it’s understandable that I thought the days of censorship were long gone.
Again, prevalence does not make it acceptable, and responding to sexist remarks is not censorship.
…it was our editor, Jean Rabe (a woman) whose decision it was to run it. It was also Ms Rabe’s request that you and I do a couple of Dialogues (issues #199 and #200) on the history of women in the field. We addressed lady writers in the earlier issue, and lady editors and publishers in the later one. And we seem to have offended some members every bit as much as the cover art did.
By having the temerity to mention that Bea Mahaffey, who edited Other Worlds in the very early 1950s, was beautiful. (Which, according to every man and woman who knew her then, is absolutely true.) After all, we’re talking about an editor, not a pin-up model, so how dare we mention her looks? What business does that have here?
OMG, that’s so unprofessional on so many levels.
John Scalzi, current SFWA President, posted this letter in the private SFWA forums, but also made it public for the rest of us because he realized that the external perception of an organization is important.
It is my belief that SFWA has, under my tenure as president and through the actions of the board as a whole, become an organization with a more diverse membership, and also more useful and helpful to that diverse membership. However, it is also my belief that public perception of the organization matters, not only to the membership that pays its dues, but to those who could become members (and thus strengthen the organization) and to the public who sees the membership comment about the organization in social media. All the positive work the organization does for writers and members means little when things like this blow up.
On an organizational level, I can only say to exiting president Scalzi and entering president Steven Gould, good luck. Trying to bring the culture of SFWA into the 21st century is a herculean task. Frankly, the more I learn about this organization, the less I am concerned about ever wanting to be a member. I couldn’t care less that sales of self-published fiction do not count as qualifying venues.
This drama is a symptom of the same mindset also prevalent in legacy publishing. “We’ve been thinkin’, sayin’, and doin’ things this way for the last fifty years, which means it all okay.” Nooooo, it’s not okay. Writers should be respected as partners in the process, and writers should treat one another as professionals and equals. Writing is a job, albeit a way cool and awesome job, but even when writers and industry experts are “keepin’ it real,” they should remain totally fuckin’ professional.
My writing merits have nothing to do with my gender and everything to do with my skills, talents, and dedication. And your do too.