A Modest Proposal for Science Fiction

Does the science fiction community discriminate against people?

That appears to be the question over the last several years, as the war over the Hugo awards between “True Fans” and “Puppies” rages on.  2015’s  Hugo awards saw a record number of “No Awards” handed out, as 2500 “True Fans” voted in lockstep to shut down nearly every category where a Puppy-chosen candidate stood any chance of winning.

The 2016 Hugo awards saw fewer “No Awards,” but the few that did win demonstrate a clear political bias.  Toni Weisskopf, long time editor at Baen, was shut out again.  Larry Elmore–arguably (alongside Frank Frazetta) the father of modern fantasy art, with over forty years in the field–was denied a Hugo award.  And Jerry Pournelle, winner of the 2016 Robert Heinlein award and science fiction writer for over forty years, was similarly denied an award.  Interestingly enough, Neil Gaiman was also nominated by the Puppies, and he did win a Hugo.  Jerry Pournelle is conservative, while Neil Gaiman is liberal.

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Hugo voting takes place at the World Science Fiction Convention.  Dave Truesdale, editor of the Tangent Online website that reviews science fiction and fantasy short stories, was at the convention to moderate a panel on “The State of Short Fiction.”  When he made the statement that political correctness had “destroyed short SFF by making it bland and destroying the careers of people,” one of the other members of the panel rotated his chair, turning his back on Truesdale in disgust.  After the panel, Truesdale was ejected from the convention entirely.  In other words, the same people who refused to award Jerry Pournelle with a Hugo were insulted by the words of Dave Truesdale and canceled his Worldcon membership. There Will Be War Volu... Doug Beason Best Price: null Buy New $4.99 (as of 06:25 EST - Details)

More recently, science fiction author Jon Del Arroz was dis-invited from the conventions he’s been part of for the last ten years.

A couple of weeks ago,  I found out that I had been blackballed from speaking at my own home convention, a place I’ve loved and cherished for almost a decade. This was a wanton act of discrimination, and perhaps more importantly, a show of utter disinterest in promoting prominent local science fiction authors. With a supposed emphasis on diversity, this act done to a Hispanic author casts an even darker shadow. It’s about as disturbing as it gets to see folk that you considered friends for years treat you with that level of disregard, while in the same stripe ignoring attendees who deliver me death threats.

…From a  global health of fandom perspective, it leads me to the question: if an organization such as the Bay Area Science Fiction Convention doesn’t stand for Bay Area authors, and doesn’t care about Science Fiction first and foremost, what is the point of the organization? If other cons across the country are operating similarly, does a change need to occur?

…But the convention, despite their namesake, has changed so it’s no longer about Bay Area authors. It’s not about Science Fiction either. One only has to go back to their last few years of programming to see what matters to the powers that be who have taken it over: it’s a place where politics transcend everything. You’re just as wont to find panels about “Combating Creationism”, “Climate Change Scenarios”, or “Diversity and Women”, and even on the appropriately themed programming, you’ll see guests like David Gerrold ranting about evil conservatives and hijacking innocuous topics…Ironically, when I first came to the scene, organizers saw my name as Hispanic and knowing little about me, placed me on programming that amounted to an hour and a half of complaining about how hard it is for minorities in fiction.

…The reason I was disinvited was because it is well known that I support the President of the United States, duly elected and all, and that I’m happy about the way the country is being run. You know, like most normal people are. That’s the only thing that’s changed between then and now…I am a minority that’s been discriminated against, not because of my race, but because of my ideas. In Science Fiction, ideas are everything, and it’s frightening to think about those being shut down as a consequence. These people want my career to fail, and they believe they can accomplish that by silencing me and giving me the cold shoulder. Star Realms: Rescue Run Jon Del Arroz Check Amazon for Pricing.

The question remains, though:  Is this the action of “fans” or of the industry itself?  Irene Gallo still works for Tor Books despite calling a sizeable segment of fandom right-wing, neo-nazi, misogynist, and homophobic.  And conservative science fiction author Nick Cole was blacklisted by his publisher for having a scene in his novel that dared to cast abortion in a bad light.

The Thinking Machines realize that one, if humanity decides something is a threat to its operational expectations within runtime (Thinking Machine-speak for “life”) then humanity’s decision tree will lead humanity to destroy that threat. Two, the machines, after a survey of humanity’s history, wars and inability to culturally unite with even members of its own species, realize that humanity will see this new Life Form, Digital Intelligence, or, the Thinking Machines, as a threat. And three, again they remind themselves this is the most watched show in the world. And four, they must abort humanity before likewise is done to them after being deemed “inconvenient.”

Now if you’re thinking my novel is about the Pro Choice/ Pro Life debate, hold your horses. It’s not. I merely needed a reason, a one chapter reason, to justify the things my antagonist is about to do to the world without just making him a one-note 80’s action flick villain as voiced by John Lithgow. I wanted this villain to be Alan Rickman-deep. One chapter. That’s all. The rest of the book is about the robots’ assault on a Game Development Complex that holds a dirty little secret to wiping out humanity. The rest of the novel is a Robot version of Night of the Living Dead with some Star Trek-style gaming and a little first-person shooter action mixed in. That’s it. A very small background justification for global homicide. Then a book-full of murderous robot madness and sci-fi thriller action.

But apparently advancing the thought that a brand new life form might see us, humanity, as dangerous because we terminate our young, apparently… that’s a ThoughtCrime most heinous over at Harper Collins. Even for one tiny little chapter.

And finally, Andrew Liptak of The Verge reports on a study demonstrating that science fiction publishing has a major racism problem.

CTRL ALT Revolt! Nick Cole Best Price: $10.00 Buy New $17.99 (as of 08:30 EST - Details) Released last week, the report is damning: of the 2,039 short stories published last year across 63 magazines, only 38 were published by black authors…Sixty percent of the magazines listed had not published a single story by a black science fiction author in 2015, while the highest publication percentage is only 25 percent. The report compared these numbers against the US census, and found that there’s a wide gap between the population and those being published. Fireside Fiction notes that the possibility for this to be random chance is smaller than that of winning the New Jersey Pick Six Lottery.

Other writers have, of course, already spoken of their opinions and analysis of this piece.  Brad Torgersen, former Sad Puppy alpha pack leader, has a fantastic response here,  And Sad Puppy Founder Larry Correia provides his own response:

Make sure your magazine’s portfolio statistically matches the country’s demographics? That is fantastic advice to give to a floundering dinosaur industry hemorrhaging subscribers, which is struggling to stay alive, and already can’t afford to pay its writers.

You know what readers love? “Fiction that challenges their comfort.” Brilliant. Do that often enough and you won’t have any of those pesky customers bothering you.

The actual simple solution?

Editors, understand your target market, then buy stories you think your audience will like enough so they will continue to give you money for them.

Authors, write the best stories you can and try to sell them. Be professional. Keep improving. Repeat.  

So, we have circumstantial evidence that science fiction publishing discriminates against people based on race, thanks to Mr. Liptak.  And, from the results of the Hugo awards, as well as the anecdotes of writers as varied as Nick Cole, Jon Del Arroz, Sarah Hoyt, Larry Correia, and Brad Torgersen, we have documented evidence that members of the science fiction community and publishing industry are willing to defame and insult people, eject them from conventions, and even cancel their writing contracts, often solely on political or religious grounds.   Monster Hunter Memoirs... Larry Correia, John Ringo Check Amazon for Pricing.

What is the solution?

I propose a tax on science fiction novels, to level the playing field in the same fashion that carbon taxes are designed to punish those who use more resources than their fair share.

Call it the “Bergeron Tax.”

Those authors writing for any mainstream international science fiction publishers have obviously been profiting from this industry-wide discrimination, so the structure of the Bergeron Tax should be arranged like this:

  • For each novel the author has previously published (with one of the big mainstream publishers), add 10% to the cost of the book.

  • Add on 5% for each Hugo or Nebula award the author has already won.

  • If the author is white, add an additional 10%.

  • If the author is male, add another 10%.

  • Finally, if the author has a beard, add on an additional 5%.

The windfall proceeds from this tax should then be shared among authors and publishers who have not been part of this industry-wide and genre-wide discrimination.  It should go to independent writers, like the members of the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association, the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance, and the Invisible Order; indy publishers dedicated to freedom of expression like The Uprising Review and Lyonesse; and to hot new upstart publishers like Castalia House.