March 13, 2014
The only real space books are the intolerant space books, insists intolerant publisher of space books
by Dustin Kurtz
It’s time for our regular check in with the science fiction culture wars so goggles on, everyone.
The last time we looked in, some very self-satisfied and widely respected old guard (though in this case they’re also just plain old) writers were shocked that people didn’t take all sorts of pleasure in their war stories about sexual harassment related in a trade magazine with a skimpily chain-mailed woman on the cover. A respected editor had been called out for a history of harassment at genre conventions and lost his job as a result. And the Men’s Rights circles in genre fandom continued to be hilarious and monstrous at the same time.
Things were pretty heated. Surely they’ve cooled down by now, right Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books?
[T]he question arises—why bother to engage these people at all? They are not of us. They do not share our values, they do not share our culture. …
I think again SF is mirroring the greater American culture. Our country is different because it, like science fiction fandom, was built around an idea—not geographic or linguistic accident, but an idea—we hold these truths to be self evident. And it is becoming more and more obvious that the two sides of American culture no longer share a frame of reference, no points of contact, no agreement on the meaning of the core ideas.
And yet, I can’t help but think that at some point, you have to fight or you will have lost the war.
Ah. I’m going to suppose from your citation of the Declaration of Independence that the disputes are still pretty hot, then.
Some background here: Baen is a major publisher of science fiction and fantasy, with a respectable history. They have some fantastic and award-winning authors on their list—Lois McMaster Bujold, Larry Niven, and above all, Robert Heinlein. The majority of their list, including those three, is preoccupied with science fiction involving complex war games. A libertarian or conservative cant is the norm with some, though not all, of their authors and likewise with some of their vocal community of readers. Some of those authors and many of those fans have been angered by recent developments in fandom, including a furor over a proposed host for the Hugo awards.
We’ve discussed before the idea of inclusivity in F/SF fandom, and the fan convention as a safe space. And whereas many fans are now willing to demand that a con be a safe space for all fans, fandom—and the parts of fandom that concern themselves with the type of fiction that Baen publishes, in particular—still has a cultural nostalgia for decades past when a safe space meant, essentially, that white men were safe to replicate in miniature the terrible structures of power that victimized them, as geeks, in the world outside. The patron saint of that type of fandom is without a doubt the prolific, complicated, unquestionably great, unquestionably misogynist Robert Heinlein.
As Weisskopf wrote in a blog post on the Baen site that was then crossposted to the blog of author Sarah Hoyt, “a slur that has been cast at people who dare criticize the politically correct, self-appointed guardians of … everything, apparently, is that they read Heinlein.”
She continues in this vein, but the gist of the post is, essentially, that fandom is now divided into two camps—those that have read Heinlein, and them, the others, the usurpers. Weisskopf expresses her fear that Those Who Have Not Read Heinlein are beyond discussion and will continue to ruin cons by asking that they maybe not be groped by strange men there.
It’s only really notable coming from the publisher of such a prominent house, whose job is, I’d imagine, to find the widest possible audience for her books rather than drawing lines in the sand. Yes, we at Melville House know who our likely audience for some of our books is going to be, but just because Lars Iyer‘s characters are acolytes of Blanchot and Weil, for instance, it doesn’t mean that readers of Rawls aren’t welcome. Send us your money, all and sundry!
John Scalzi gets it right in his response to Weisskopf, writing:
There is no one way to be a fan of the genre. Ms. Weisskopf’s unilateral attempt to establish fans of her publishing house as the One True Church, with Heinlein as its graven image, is flat out wrong. Not only are they not the One True Church, they don’t even get Robert Heinlein to themselves. They have to timeshare him with me and with many other fans who love his work, see him as an influence, and at the same time are happy to welcome anyone who wants to be part of the science fiction and fantasy community into the fold, no matter how they got there.
A proper approach to fandom is not something to be policed in any genre, whereas the comfort and well-being of every fan very much is. That includes when the subject of that fandom is Heinlein, or Scalzi, or even those Niven books where everyone is always fighting tiger aliens.
Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.