The SFWA Thing

I’ve kept meaning to post about this, but it all blew up while I was in Canada and I’ve been in catch-up mode ever since. Today I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, and we have a whole new raft of outrage, so I guess it is time.

I should note here that I am an ex-SFWA member. I joined as soon as I thought I was eligible, because I think SFWA is a useful organization and the more eligible people who join the better. I quickly found out, however, that SFWA regarded its Associate and Affiliate members as a source of cash and little else, so I walked away. When John Scalzi and friends took over I figured that I should re-join as things would get better, but I was told that you can’t simply re-activate your membership. You have to apply again from scratch. Because having been accepted as a member in the past is not sufficient proof that you qualify now. So I walked away again, and am unlikely to join until I can do so as a full member.

Having said all that, I still believe that SFWA is a good thing, and the more good people who are eligible to join who play an active role the better. I agree with Tempest that we want a SFWA that is the best it can be.

I’d also like to agree with Lavie Tidhar and call for a more international SFWA. However, I understand the practical problems on the road to that goal. SFWA is not (whatever some people might claim) an organization for American writers; it is an organization for writers who do business in America. It has that restriction because the legal framework in which writers do business in the USA is different from that that obtains in the UK, different again from that in Australia, and so on. To become truly international, SFWA would have to develop skills in the business environments of every country, and that is a major undertaking.

Before SFWA can even start to tackle that sort of project, however, it needs to put its own house in order. That too will be hard, at least in part because, like so much in our community, it is dependent on the work of volunteers. It is also plagued by culture wars. Some of those people who have been members for years and remember it being a club for white boys are having difficulty coming to terms with a world in which women, people of color, QUILTBAG folk and so on expect to be members in equal standing.

Long term, however, SFWA has to be a professional organization. It can’t be that if its newsletter gives a platform for two people to do a bad impression of Statler and Waldorf, abusing everyone else in the community (some of you may remember that I had my own run-in with Resnick & Malzberg a couple of years ago). And it can’t be that if it is continually finding itself in the news, not for fulfilling its stated purpose, but for providing a platform whose views would be politically conservative in the 19th Century, let alone the 21st. The past couple of weeks have provided more bad press for science fiction than I can remember in a long time, because time and again I have seen articles in mainstream media outlets explaining how the genre is a bastion of sexist old men. After today that will be amended to sexist and racist old men.

The good news is that Newton was right: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The louder and more repulsive the conservatives become, the more likely it will be that people fight back. I have been very heartened, over the last couple of weeks, by the number of blog posts I have seen by women writers saying that they are not going to sit back and be treated with contempt any longer. Furthermore, after today’s latest outrage, John Scalzi has been raising money for the Carl Brandon Society, by offering to match donations up to a total of $1000. Other people have offered to add their own matching payments, or match bands above $1000. This is delightful.

With any luck we’ll get into the news for doing something good for a change.

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2 Responses to The SFWA Thing

  1. Daniel Salvo says:

    Good article. Interesting point of view to consider an international SFWA, and the difficulties for that goal due to the way of doing business in every country. I think the same could be applied to authors publishing in platforms like Smashwords or Kindle: if your place is Peru, as example, who will made the stuff about taxes, copyright and so? Is the best way to publish free forever?
    I think that, when this questions will be responded, the “right way of doing business” could become more international for the (science fiction – fantasy – horror) authors.

    • Cheryl says:

      The market will doubtless become more standardized internationally with time, but right now it isn’t, and to give good advice to members SFWA has to understand current conditions.