Whew.

That’s a sigh of relief. One less thing to feel conflicted about. One more thing I can celebrate freely, easily, and without reservation.

I’m talking about the World Fantasy Award, which will now no longer be represented by the head of H. P. Lovecraft. My feeling re the whole thing is a) ’bout time, and b) whew. Because while I have no idea if I’ll ever win a WFA myself — I’ve been nominated twice and that’s awesome — I have watched other anti-racist friends and fellow writers of color win the award. It’s impossible not to feel that visceral clench of empathy when they speak of the awkwardness of Lovecraft, of all people, as the representation of their honor. I’ve heard a number of winners talk about the ways they plan to hide or disguise or otherwise disrespect their own award so that they can reach a place of comfort with it. I’ve contemplated what I would do if I won, myself. (Was planning to put it on full display atop my cat’s litterbox.) I never show off my nomination pins, because I don’t feel like explaining when people ask, “Who’s that supposed to be?”

It’s not right, that so many of us should have a sour taste in our mouths when we speak of triumph and achievement. And yet that’s the position we get put into by the SFF genre again and again, because so many of its honors are… tainted. The Campbell is named after a man who rejected stories featuring black protagonists on principle. The Hugo’s namesake was not without his questionable ideas about black people. The Nebula was twice awarded by a jury that included Vox Day — and yeah, people knew exactly what kind of person he was when they put him on that jury. They did it anyway, because “back then” (as recently as ten years ago) the decision-makers in this genre just didn’t think hating black people or women or Jews or queer people was all that big a deal. A lot of people in this genre still don’t. (We’re so open minded, we dreamers and futurists.) But now here we are, and there’s hardly an honor in SFFdom that I can win without adding a rueful twist to my smile, or a sigh to the end of my cheer.

It wears on the soul, having to think about this.

(And I do have to. A good writer understands how the world works, and doesn’t flinch away from acknowledging what’s wrong with it.)

I’m not calling for the overhaul of all SFF awards — though if the various folks involved decided to consider making changes on their own, great. I get that other people don’t want to taste this sourness when they talk about our genre’s best and brightest. I don’t want to. Which is why it’s such a relief that I no longer have to re the WFA (provided they don’t replace it with something just as problematic). Whether I win or someone whose writing I love wins, I can now whoop and clap and stomp my feet with the same abandon as everyone else. This seems like such a small thing to be glad for… but some of us have to take our small pleasures where we can get them.

Thanks for that, Nnedi and Sofia and Daniel and all the other folks who named the elephant in the room, and pushed this conversation. Thanks to the World Fantasy decision-makers who finally realized you can celebrate an author’s work and still acknowledge that hating black people is a big deal to some of us. Thanks also to the fans, who’ve endured endless circular trollacious contributions to the conversation (e.g. “if we ban the imperfect we’ll have nothing left to read!” even tho nobody was talking about banning and “how much BLOOD on the FLOOR do you WANT, SJWs?!” oh ffs really and “but he was so polite” and so on), and kept it focused on what matters.

Whew. Gonna get back to revisions, now, with a little lighter heart.

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15 Responses »

  1. I loved Saladin Ahmed’s idea of instead having Ricardo Montalban, in wink-and-toast mode, for the bust.

  2. The Nebula Awards have a jury? I thought it was just their related award the Andre Norton that had the jury. Has that changed since that happened?

  3. David,

    Used to, yep. In fairness (as I understand it, because I was refusing to join SFWA at the time even though I was eligible), that incident was one of things that drove the Nebula Awards overhaul.

  4. Ah! I think I’ve only paid attention to them in the last 5ish years. I hadn’t realized they had been significantly different in recent history. Thanks.

  5. In the Nebula Awards the jury may (but is not required to) add one work to a ballot otherwise filled by the vote of the members. My understanding has always been (and take this with a grain of salt) that it allowed the jury to add a worthy work that might otherwise have been overlooked because of being (for example) published outside of genre or by a small press.

    In fact, I served on a Novel Jury with Theodore Beale. I had never heard of him and was not familiar with his work or opinions at the time I was on the jury.

  6. I feel weirdly conflicted about this, and on examination I think my feelings are something like “God dammit, I wish Lovecraft hadn’t been such an asshole so that we could honor his *good* writing.”

    I’m not sure if that makes sense or is appropriate, and I don’t want to imply that anyone else ought to agree, but it’s what’s going on in my hindbrain, so I thought I would pull it out and take a look.

    I seem to be more able to forgive authors who are safely dead and falling away into the past. I’ll never read another book by Orson Scott Card, even though I loved his stuff before all his bullshit went public. Heinlein I can view as mostly decent and sometimes progressive *for his time*, which does not mean that he should be uncritically idolized *now*, but I can still enjoy much of his writing while acknowledging that it’s problematic. Lovecraft’s less-overtly-racist work I can enjoy on the same level as, say, the Odyssey, or the Epic of Gilgamesh, as a sort of alien artifact that I can appreciate while entirely refusing to participate in its cultural context.

    Of course putting Lovecraft on a modern award drags him right up into the modern cultural context, so yeah, absolutely he shouldn’t be there. Man, I wish he hadn’t been such a dick.

  7. Phasma,

    Well, here’s the thing: the WFA isn’t supposed to be honoring Lovecraft. It did, inadvertently, because it was his head. Which forced the award’s recipients — those who really are being honored by it — to aggrandize him even if they didn’t want to. Him, not his writing, or the award would’ve been a giant tentacle or something. That’s the core of the problem. When the WF committee of old chose to make an individual person the symbol of everything awesome in fantasy, that symbol was not neutral in value. A person cannot be. Everything about the man was represented in it: his mythos, his bigotry (which was exceptional even in his own era), whether he picked his nose. It’s happenstance that his particular failing was something so offensive to so many people… because few human beings can bear being the representative of a concept. Nobody’s neutral enough. Book lovers often idolize authors, but we’re just people, and therefore inherently flawed.

    (Note: if anybody reads this after I’m dead, don’t put my head on a goddamn statue, please. For any reason. Thanks in advance.)

    That doesn’t mean you can’t still honor his writing. Lots of people like problematic stuff. I love Card’s (earlier) writing myself. No one is talking about banning problematic books, either — except the trolls, anyway. The debate has been about whether it’s appropriate to force people who are being honored to in turn honor a man whom they might find reprehensible. Who might have found them reprehensible. Not his writing; him.

  8. “that symbol was not neutral in value. A person cannot be.”

    That’s the crux of it, to me. No author could really be representative of the genre of fantasy, even just considering their writing.

    Better to pick an object that represents the genre because an object need not hold the same complexities of interpretation as a real human being must. A tentacle or a mage’s staff or so many other things.

    This was never supposed to be the Lovecraft Award, it’s the World Fantasy Award and it’s reasonable to come to the conclusion that Lovecraft, whatever his strengths and his failings, does not adequately represent world fantasy.

  9. A tentacle WIELDING A MAGE’S STAFF. On fire. Possibly with arcane symbols in there somewhere.

  10. Yes, it’s so weird that the people angry about the change act as if the award is dedicated to Lovecraft and is now being ripped away from him when it is actually a general fantasy and horror award. Personally I am entirely agreed that it should never have had an individual as the focus regardless — a world tree or something. And the people who say “separate the work from the man!” — have they READ The Rats in the Walls???

  11. I’m quite happy about this myself, and yes, it’s better if the replacement is not a real author’s bust. Surely we can conjure up some amazing art for a fantasy award.

    And just aesthetically speaking, that thing is hideous as hell. An award? More like a punishment.

  12. Not relating to the World Fantasy Award, but congratulations on having The Fifth Season named one of the 100 notable books of 2015 by the New York Times.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/books/review/100-notable-books-of-2015.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur