Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wiscon, Sexism, SFWA ... and Speculative Fiction and Speculative Poetry

The new furor over at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America creates sympathetic reverberations here, far away —— even though I am a man and the issue relates to depictions of women, and moreover not currently a member of SFWA. The furor reverberates here all the same. In recent years I have liked SFWA mainly for its membership directory. I had no money for membership in recent years, though, thanks to the C.M. Kornbluth biographical work; and so I thought I would just fade away. It remained in mind that if I could overcome the pennyweight writing doldrums then I might send in my overdue dues. SFWA kept sending me the relatively useless Bulletin —— probably, too, thinking that I might make good eventually, since I have done so in other lean years ... although its hopes must have been tinted with practical sense, since it never sent its directory.

It strikes me as perhaps strange, perhaps inevitable, that the current controversy should have near its center the forever-droning-on SFWA Bulletin palaver between one senior writer who has lived on the fat of Sciencefictionland and another who has gotten by on the lean —— a sort of Winnie-the-Pooh and Eeyore duo. Despite the sometimes useful discussions that arise in their pages the somnolent monotony prevails —— especially since the latter figure, with faraway dooms hidden behind his deep-lidded eyes, keeps genuflecting to the worldly success and knowledge of the former. That latter writer provides the more literary interest, while the former offers a vision of the beneficent behemoth that science fiction is, to the uppermost half-percent of its writers.

Perhaps strange, perhaps inevitable —— because one of their conversations had made me ask myself, "Do I care any more if I belong to this group?" How could I? Mike Resnick intoned about C.M. Kornbluth, and mentioned two books —— The Futurians and The Way the Future Was, and not mine, that I daresay has more to say about Kornbluth than any other book yet in existence. In response, Barry Malzberg said nothing.

This left me with bitterness flourishing like black rot on the tongue. Malzberg had read my book and praised it highly —- to me. Not to the world, apparently.

If, when in command of the SFWA membership's attention, the one writer who might have mentioned my book knowledgeably was failing to do so, for whatever reason, why should I want to stay in the organization?

At Wiscon two weekends ago, Mary Rickert asked me if anyone had spoken up for me, during that absurd episode when the author of The Way the Future Was identified me with "the forces of evil."

"No," I answered.

The other day I read several blog postings concerning the current furor, including one by Ann Aguirre, whose work I do not know. Aguirre's statements of cold-shouldering and public snubbing by established male science fiction writers astonished me. I had thought that the goons and gropers had been shooed away, by and large, and that the imbecile high priests to masculine writerly prowess had learned the tape-to-lips trick to look smarter. Not so, apparently. Yet on reflection how could I have known? The convention that I have attended the most, and to which I feel most allegiance, is Wiscon —— statedly feminist, and in practice egalitarian in attitude toward those who exhibit their own egalitarian spirit.

Many social problems of the sexist and racist sorts, I suspect, would begin disappearing if we would simply do this: erase "science fiction" from a convention's name and pencil in "speculative fiction." In doing so we would be harkening back to the split between the marketing category and the literary category, which I speak about in Kornbluth. Likely only a few science fiction conventions could make this shift, however. The one that I think could do it almost without effort is Wiscon. The serious, thoughtful fiction discussed in its panels and encouraged by its system of rewards and awards would fit more naturally beneath the literary banner than under the marketing one. If Judy Merril when she was guest of honor had revived her old campaign and had urged that the convention adopt the literary term "speculative fiction" and had tapped into the same energy and spunk with which Karen Fowler and Pat Murphy announced the Tiptree Award years ago, what might then have unfolded?

The great acceptance speculative poetry has enjoyed —— as a term, as a focus for panels —— at recent Wiscons offers evidence for a group mindset that might accept the change. The energy at this Wiscon 37 in this direction surprised me. Friday evening featured a lively panel, "Women's Speculative Poetry Now," with Lesley Wheeler, Amal El-Mohtar, Shira Lipkin and Sophia Samatar. The next afternoon brought "Open Secrets: A Speculative Poetry Reading," featuring "members of the Secret Poetry Cabal (a speculative poetry group)" —— a likewise lively affair with multiple poets and a large, appreciative audience. The last reading I attended at Wiscon, moreover, included Wheeler reading from her new Aqueduct Press book whose title poem (to bring matters back around to my original subject) deals with sexual harassment. (Timmi Duchamp of Aqueduct bemoans the fact that she took no notes during Friday's panel. I went prepared to do so, though —— and hope to describe that event in greater detail. Wheeler's book I came home with, and hope to dip into further.)

In the meantime, try the sound of this: "Wiscon: World's Leading Feminist Speculative Fiction Convention." Would such a name lose any attendees? Would it gain any? Would it further deter the "science fiction" sorts Aguirre encountered?

For me, I may hold out for a Speculative Writers organization to join, someday, and forget about that senile-fogey "Science Fiction" group. Blish and Knight should have known better, way back when —— no? And I should have stuck to my youthful guns, too, and persisted against the marketing tide and clutched "speculative fiction" even closer to my heart than I did.

(The subtitle of my Kornbluth biography, which was suggested by McFarland, by the way, remains fine: for "science fiction" remains the accurate term for the period 1939-58.)

Cheers ...

1 comment:

  1. Re this:

    try the sound of this: "Wiscon: World's Leading Feminist Speculative Fiction Convention." Would such a name lose any attendees? Would it gain any? Would it further deter the "science fiction" sorts Aguirre encountered?
    Aurora, the fanzine that Jan Bogstad and Jeanne Gomoll originated in the 1970s, had as its subhead, "Speculative Feminism." That would work.