Tag Archives: science fiction

Jeannette Ng: Award-Winner Speech Catalyzes Much-Needed Change


Laurie and Debbie say:

Last week, fantasy writer Jeannette Ng won an award then named the John W. Campbell Award, given every year to the “best new writer” in the science-fiction and fantasy field. Her first novel, Under the Pendulum Sun, was published by Angry Robot Books in 2017.

Scrambling to write a speech on the fly, because she didn’t expect to win, Ng stood up before the audience at the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland, and said, in part:

John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist. Through his editorial control of Astounding Science Fiction, he is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists. Yes, I am aware there are exceptions.

But these bones, we have grown wonderful, ramshackle genre, wilder and stranger than his mind could imagine or allow.

And I am so proud to be part of this.

She went on in her short speech to mention that she was born in Hong Kong: “Right now, in the most cyberpunk in the city in the world, protesters struggle with the masked, anonymous stormtroopers of an autocratic Empire.”

Today, Dell Magazines, which owns this particular award, changed its name to the Astounding Science Fiction award. Trevor Quachri, editor of Astounding‘s successor magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact wrote: “Campbell’s provocative editorials and opinions on race, slavery, and other matters often reflected positions that went beyond just the mores of his time and are today at odds with modern values, including those held by the award’s many nominees, winners and supporters.”

Peter Libbey, writing in the New York Times, credits not only Ng’s speech for the change, but also the opinion of Alec Nevala-Lee, whose book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction examines Campbell’s contributions to science fiction, also supported the change. According to the Times, Neva-Lee said: “It was clearly the right call. At this point, the contrast between Campbell’s racism and the diversity of the writers who have recently received the award was really just too glaring to ignore.”

John W. Campbell edited the most prestigious magazine in science fiction for almost 40 years. From that position, he was able to promulgate a fascistic, militaristic, misogynist, racist view of the world. He accepted and rejected stories based on their political content, he built and destroyed careers, he strengthened stereotypes and cut off original voices. There were other magazines, other venues, but the dominance of Campbell for decades really can’t be questioned.

Alternate history is one of the key branches of science fiction, so as lifelong SF readers, we are tempted to speculate on how fascistic, militaristic, and racist the field would have been during the tumultuous ’60s and beyond. Certainly, in 1968, three years before Campbell’s death, prominent science-fiction writers split into two camps and took out matching advertisements in another magazine, one against and one for the Vietnam war.

Although there were many important and highly talented front-runners dating back into the 19th century, women didn’t really come into their own as science fiction writers until the late 1980s or early 1990s. People of color, again after some brilliant leaders including Samuel R. Delany in the early 1960s, really took the stage after 2009, when the field erupted with unprecedented online conversations about racism. And just a few years ago, a group of radical white men tried very hard to take over the awards and dominate the field — and were crushed by a combination of public opinion within the field and some very clever organizing.

Is science fiction racist today? Of course. Does it have a substantial contemporary body of literature with fascist leanings? Absolutely. But it is also a field where African-American author N.K. Jemisin can win three consecutive Hugos for her Broken Earth trilogy, where the award nominee lists read much more like the world than like an old boys’ club, and where Jeannette Ng, in a brief speech, can be instrumental in erasing an ugly name from the future of a prestigious award.

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Transgender Day of Visibility: Yoon Ha Lee


Laurie and Debbie say:

Today is the 10th annual Transgender Day of Visibility. In contrast to the better-known Transgender Day of Remembrance, TDOV, as created in 2009 by Rachel Crandall, focuses on the living. With a multitude of excellent choices in front of us, we decided to tell you about Yoon Ha Lee.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American science fiction and fantasy writer with a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University. He mines his background in math for his stories and novels, including the acclaimed Machineries of Empire Series. Ninefox Gambit, the first Machineries of Empire novel, won the Locus Award for best first novel in 2017. He lives in Louisiana with his husband and daughter.

We always look for embodied writing here at Body Impolitic, and Yoon certainly delivers. Here’s an excerpt from his flash fiction piece, “The Mermaid’s Teeth”:

… the mermaid was possessed of great determination and creativity. She shaped her words through the tension of her throat, forced them into seduction-verses.

Through all this she combed out her hair. It was beautiful hair and she didn’t see why she should neglect it because of a little bad luck with a sailor. It hung heavy and dark and ripple-sheened. Her lovers had told her that they could see the colors of the sea caught in it, or luminous moon-weave; they had told her about its silk, its salt perfume, the way it tangled them almost as surely as her kisses. The mermaid kept a diary of these compliments, written in the vortices around her island. Only the most ardent and perceptive sailors could navigate those vortices to embrace her.

Ah: here came a sailor. She sang louder, tossing the comb toward him so that the sun flashed against its curve. I wear nothing but the salt spray, she sang. I am cold on my island. Also, as long as it has been for you, I guarantee that it has been longer for me. Come and clasp my cold limbs, come and help me comb out my hair, explore the tide pools of my body.

Richard Dutcher, friend of this blog and occasional poster, has this to say about Lee’s work:

Yoon Ha Lee’s fantasy and space opera are embedded in Korea’s culture and history (which is every bit as deep and complex as any Euro-American country’s). I know some small things about both, but nothing like what people raised in it do. That means I get to read stories unlike the hundreds I have read since I was 5. I don’t know how his characters are going to react, I don’t know what changes he is ringing on old themes, I don’t know what is going to happen! I love that.

For instance, his space-opera empires are built on technologies based on the control of calendars and time-keeping. I have no idea whether that concept comes from someplace in Korean culture, or from Yoon Ha Lee’s own fertile imagination–or both. Perhaps at some convention I will be able to ask him. In the meantime, he offers a sense of wonder I often miss in the tales from the cultures I know best!

Yoon is only one of many, many transpeople who should be more visible today — and every day.