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Heinlein, Hugos, and Hogwash


Robert Heinlein could not win a Hugo Award today.

If you are a fan of science fiction, you know how shocking that statement is. If you are not a science fiction fan, I salute you for having better things to do with your time than read stories about space princesses being rescued from bug-eyed monsters by stalwart and clean-limbed fighting men of Virginia; but please let me explain why this is shocking.

Robert Heinlein is without doubt the leading writer in the science fiction field. He was the first to break into the slick magazines or into hardcover. Were it not for him, science fiction would still be languishing in a literary ghetto, no more popular than niche-market stories about samurai or railroad executives.

He was a gadfly. Heinlein’s two most famous novels are Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land. The first challenges the orthodoxy of the Left as much as the second does that of the Right. But in his day, few science fiction readers were offended by his or anyone’s ideas. Science fiction was proud to be a literature of the new and startling. A spirit of intellectual fearlessness was paramount.

A darker time followed. The lamps of the intellect were put out one by one, first in society at large, then in literature, then in our little corner called science fiction. What we have now instead is a smothering fog of caution, of silence, of an unwillingness to speak for fear of offending the perpetually hypersensitive.

Science fiction is under the control of the thought police. The chains are invisible, but real. For a genre that glories in counting George Orwell as one of its own, this is ironic, to say the least.

Myriad examples exist. Orson Scott Card publicly expressed the mildest imaginable opposition to having judges overrule popular votes defining marriage in the traditional way. The uproar of hate directed against this innocent and honorable man is vehement and ongoing. An unsuccessful boycott was organized against the movie Ender’s Game, but he was successfully shoved off a project to write for Superman comics.

Got that? The award-winning Mr. Card, one of the finest science fiction writers today, was forced off the project because the dictates of his religious faith (not to mention his faith in democracy over rule by activist judges) did not agree with the political beliefs of the thought police.

No one accused him of attempting to write a Superman story belittling homosexuals, or belittling anyone. Sales would have grown, not fallen. This was not about money or hurt feelings. It was about this: if a man thinks what St. Paul thought about homosexual acts, he cannot write a children’s yarn about a friendly alien Hercules saving a spunky girl reporter from mad scientists or moon-apes.

Likewise, when Larry Correia was nominated for a Hugo Award, the gossips reacted with astonishing venom, vocal enough to be mentioned in the Washington Post and USA Today. He was accused of the typical menu of thought crimes. You know the selection: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, insensitivity, fascism. The falsely accused racist here is Hispanic.

His detractors, including leaders in the field, announced in triumphant tones their plan to vote his work NO AWARD, without having read the nominated book, and they encouraged fandom to do likewise. They want voting based solely on the pariah status of the author, merit be damned.

Likewise, Theodore Beale was expelled from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers America (SFWA), our professional union, on the rather specious grounds that he repeated comments from a members-only bulletin board to the general public. He was libeled with the same typical menu as above. (By odd coincidence, the falsely accused racist here is also Hispanic.) That the expulsion was done in an irregular and ad hoc fashion casts an additional pall of shame over it.

He was also nominated for a Hugo Award. As above, the gossips demand that fandom vote based on pariah status only, and not read the book. Henceforth, a Hugo is not an award for good writing but for obedience to goodthink.

Likewise, Elizabeth Moon was “uninvited” from being the guest of honor at a large convention for making the rather unremarkable remark that immigrants to the United States should assimilate. This was decried as so inflammatory that the fans would be in danger of death at the hands of justifiably outraged militants driven to madness by Miss Moon’s race-hatred.

Likewise, under the editorial guidance of Jean Rabe, two well-established science fiction writers, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, in the SFWA house magazine made comments ranging from the complimentary to the utterly innocuous about lady writers and editors breaking into the field. That issue also featured a toothsome sword-wielding Amazon in chain-mail bikini. All three were fired.

The expulsion of Theodore Beale and the firing of Jean Rabe were major examples. I will list a minor one: The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF is an anthology edited by Mike Ashley. When it was noticed that there were no women authors in the table of contents, fandom was whipped into prepackaged frenzy.

The stories were reprints and selected for their mind-blowing quality, that is, they were nuts-and-bolts-style SF yarns. Note that of the 289 novels nominated for Hugo Awards, 231 were written by male writers. This means that if Mike Ashley were selecting only Hugo-nominated authors, the chances that a woman would have penned any one story listed in the table of contents would be less than one in five.

The older the strata of science fiction being mined, or the more deeply into nuts-and-bolts the SF tale, the smaller the percentage of women found in the candidate pool. Plucking twenty tales out of the whole mass of SF from 1958 to 2006 (the print range of the stories), even if done at random, might easily have no female authors present.

None accuse Mike Ashley of any evil intent against women. Yet if you look at the Wikipedia entry for this anthology, there is only one quote from a critic, mocking his lack of diversity.

More examples could be listed, including personal ones, but the pattern should be clear.

There are two ways for a sheep to be lead: one is by fear of the sheepdog, and the other is by following the sheep in front of him. The first is law and the second is custom.

Law is enforced by solemn ceremonies, oaths, judges in robes, policemen in uniforms, hangmen in hoods. It is objective, official, overt, masculine, and direct.

Custom is encouraged by countless social cues and expressions of peer pressure. It is subjective, informal, covert, feminine, and indirect.

No one will arrest you if you don’t tip the waitress, but your friends will look at you askance and recoil as if you exude a mephitic odor. If a man offends the unwritten rules of custom, he does not meet the hangman, but he does meet the gossip, whose role in life, for good or ill, is to criticize deviance from the social norms. When the social norms are sane, this social role is useful.

When law becomes corrupt, you have a police state. When custom becomes corrupt, you have a tyranny of hogwash.

The case against Mr. Card is filled with falsehood. His real remarks are too innocuous, so new and unreal ones are invented and merely attributed to him.

The case again Mr. Beale was a mask of hypocrisy. Repeating private communications is something many others have done. His real crime was thought crime. His opinions on matters unrelated to science fiction got him kicked out. He neither picked anyone’s pocket nor broke anyone’s leg.

The case of Mike Ashley was arbitrary. I am sure he was completely taken by surprise to be selected at random for the Two-Minute Hate.

The case of Malzberg and Resnick and Rabe is a paragon of disproportionate punishment. Normal practice when complaints about a writer arrive is to tell him not to repeat the gaffe. Normally, policies are enacted before they are enforced. Here the punishments were cruel, unusual, and ex post facto.

The case against Elizabeth Moon can only be called deliberate lunacy. No one in his right mind was actually in any real fear that the convention hotel would be bombed if she were the guest of honor, but safe if she were only a guest. It was madness by design.

Why this approach? Why so much hogwash?

False accusations are used even when true accusations would serve better, because the sheep now know that truth is no defense.

Hypocrisy serves better than honest and open accusations, for the scapegoat might prove his case if confronted with a real accusation. Best to accuse him of something else, lest the debate become cluttered with facts.

For the same reason, arbitrarily selecting an innocent scapegoat is just as useful as selecting a guilty one, since the sheep stand in greater awe and fear when none knows on whose back the lash will fall. Innocence is no defense.

Few of these purge victims are conservative. The leftists are turning on their own. Ideological loyalty is no defense.

The disproportion of the punishment is to deter defiance. If the punishments were predictable, a sheep could make a calculation of whether the suffering was worth the freedom to speak one’s mind. But the punishments are irrational, so the price is unknown.

And making utterly lunatic accusations is done to humiliate not the accused but the accusers. Each sheep is forced to parrot nonsense lest he be scapegoated next. This drives home how powerless he is. He no longer owns his own mouth, nor keep his tongue free from nonsense and blither. This breaks his spirit.

The purpose of all this hogwash is not to aid the plight of minorities. The purpose is power. The purpose is terror.

One need not ignite a suicide-bomb to enact a reign of terror. One need only have the power to hurt a man’s reputation or income, and be willing to use the power in an arbitrary, treacherous, lunatic, and cruel fashion. For this, the poisonous tongue suffices.

At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome. Now speculative fiction makes speculative thinkers so unwelcome that, after a decade of support, I resigned my membership in SFWA in disgust. SFWA bears no blame for all these witch-hunts, or even most; but SFWA spreads the moral atmosphere congenial to the witch-hunters, hence not congenial to my dues money.

Be warned. If this is how overgrown that playground of live-and-let-live nonconformists, geeks, and weirdos known as science fiction has become, how long before all the fields and gardens of civilization are smothered by this tangled and malodorous weed of terror, accusation, and thought police?

The lunatic Left planned and struggled for years, decades, to achieve their cultural influence. Let us imitate their perseverance, and retake our lost home one mind, one institution, at a time. Start by praying.

John C. Wright is a Nebula Award–nominated science fiction author whose work has received noteworthy critical and popular acclaim. Publishers Weekly called him “This fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.” He is the author, most recently, of Awake in the Night Land and The Judge of Ages. His website is


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