“The X-Files” taught us “the truth is out there.”
Modern Social Justice Warriors updated that catchphrase – only our truths matter.
It’s why author Andrew Fox decided to take action. Fox is behind a new crowdfunding effort putting the creativity back in science fiction. The upcoming “Hazardous Imaginings” anthology will let artists be artists, sans the restrictions placed upon them these days by P.C. scolds.
HiT reached out to Fox to learn more about his project and why we need it now … more than ever. The answers were longer than this editor anticipated! They also touch on so many larger truths that it became impossible to leave any of it behind.
Q: What sparked “Hazardous Imaginings?” Was it a growing frustration … or a specific incident?
Andrew Fox: Both. A couple of prompting factors had simmered for a long time, and one was more recent – a death in the science fiction community of one of its most prominent writers.
I’ll cover the simmering stuff first. My first close-up encounter with an online shaming mob was back in 2013 when my dear friend Barry N. Malzberg, an award-winning science fiction writer who has been publishing since the mid-1960s, found himself defenestrated from his quarterly gig of writing the “Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues” column for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFFWA) Bulletin.
This feature ran for about two dozen installments and essentially consisted of Barry and his buddy Mike Resnick kibbitzing in print about the history of science fiction, tools of the trade, or recent trends in the field.
The columns were fun and informative and invariably my favorite part of the Bulletin. In 2013, Barry and Mike, who both loved doing deep dives into obscure science fiction history, wrote a series of columns celebrating the accomplishments of a little-known but important group of contributors to the SF field – women editors and assistant editors who had staffed the offices of several of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror pulp magazines of the field’s Golden Age of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
Think famed magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. The articles praised these women to the heavens and were somewhat worshipful in tone.
Who Are You Calling ‘Lady,’ Sirs?
The trouble arose when the two authors referred to this group of editors as “lady editors” – a term which is certainly period-appropriate, is not in any way insulting or demeaning, and which the subjects most likely used to refer to themselves.
The brouhaha gathered steam when Mike pointed out that photographs from the 1940s and 1950s revealed that one of the article’s subjects, Bea Mahaffey, had looked stunning in a bathing suit. Mike shared the anecdote that when she attended pool parties with groups of fans (mostly males), the fans’ wives made sure to attend so as to keep their husbands on the straight-and-narrow.
It was Mike’s way of making his portrait of Bea more three-dimensional, going beyond merely listing her professional accomplishments. Also, it was sort of funny to imagine those besotted fans. Mike and Barry both strove to inject plenty of humor into their retrospectives.
Well, these articles did not sit well with the feminist contingent at SFFWA, even though the purpose of the articles had been to celebrate women pioneers in science fiction, and the Bulletin’s editor, who had commissioned the articles from Barry and Mike and approved them, was herself a woman.
The tone of the online outrage storm that quickly brewed up is best reflected by the title of a blog post by Rachael Acks, “Dear Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick: F*** You. Signed, Rachael Acks.”
This over-the-top vitriol wasn’t confined to Acks. Over the following weeks, Barry and Mike were referred to online as wankers, regressive, outdated, condescending, sources of “sexist douchebaggery,” “misogynistic, irrelevant dinosaurs,” “old men yelling at clouds,” “majority men in power,” “hideous, backwards, and strangely atavistic,” “blithering nincompoops,” antiquated, “deeply offensive,” “at best stupid and at worst censorious,” “sexist dippery,” gross, “never ending stream of sexism,” sh***y, prehistoric, and, perhaps most colorfully, “giant space dicks.”
This level of outrage struck me as unhinged.
Barry and Mike had engaged in an act of intergenerational gratitude and kindness, leavened with a soupcon of fanboyish exuberance. The worst that could be said about what they wrote was that it was tone-deaf to modern Progressive sensibilities.
This Two-Minute Hate (make that a Two-Month Hate) wasn’t directed at a couple of shmucks off the street, either. Mike Resnick holds, I believe, the record for most Hugo Award nominations and has worked his entire life in the service of science fiction, editing magazines and anthologies and always making himself available to contribute introductions or afterwords to others’ works.
Barry N. Malzberg won the inaugural John W. Campbell Award, has been nominated for multiple Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards, and has enjoyed a long career as one of science fiction’s most incisive and poignant critics and essayists.
Politics Had Nothing to Do With It
Neither of these men is a political conservative. Barry’s dream presidential candidate has always been Eugene McCarthy, and he was so traumatized by John F. Kennedy’s assassination that he wrote an entire library of science fiction stories and novels focusing on the tragedy.
Yet despite Barry’s and Mike’s distinguished careers, SFFWA caved to the demands of the online mob and a vocal minority of the SFFWA membership. The leadership fired Bulletin editor Jean Rabe, cancelled the Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues, and suspended publication of the Bulletin for more than six months in order to cleanse it of the stench of non-Progressive-approved language, images, and themes.
I tried defending Barry and Mike online; I provide a lot more details regarding l’affaire Resnick/Malzberg at my site.
The fanatical determination I saw displayed to smother expressions that run counter to the mob’s preferred mode of thought made me determined, in a quieter fashion, to push back any way I could.
The other long-simmering precursor to “Hazardous Imaginings” was the state of my own writing career.
My first published book was “Fat White Vampire Blues,” which came out from Del Rey/Ballantine, an imprint of Random House, in 2003. It garnered a lot of laudatory reviews, was awarded the Lord Ruthven Award for Best Vampire Novel, and sold decently for a first novel from a no-name author.
Del Rey put out the sequel the following year, “Bride of the Fat White Vampire.” Unfortunately for me, Bride only sold about half as well as Blues had. That meant I was toast at Random House.
The days of commercial publishing houses nurturing their writers through a long series of publications while they gradually built up their audiences were long gone.
I ended up with a small science fiction specialty firm on the West Coast for my third book, “The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501,” a gonzo homage to Ray Bradbury’s classic “Fahrenheit 451.” The Good Humor Man didn’t set the bestseller lists on fire, but it more than earned out its advance and has provided me with a small stream of royalties since 2009.
Why Writing Good Fiction Isn’t Always Enough
Over the decade following my writing “The Good Humor Man,” I wrote an additional 15 novels. I offered eight of these to my specialty publisher (the other seven were either Young Adult novels, books in my “Fat White Vampire” series that I couldn’t sell to any publishing house apart from Del Rey, or books in a series that I’d begun self-publishing through my personal imprint, MonstraCity Press).
The editors turned down each one of them. With the first few rejections, I thought perhaps the books weren’t engaging enough, or they somehow lacked that certain “something” that had made “The Good Humor Man” appealing.
But after eight rejections in a row, some of which were of books I considered my strongest work, I began to think some other factor might be in play. One of the minor themes of “The Good Humor Man” had been the potential dangers posed by genetically engineered foods; a company named MannaSantos (get it?) was the safety-negligent villain of the book.
This, apparently, had been one of the main characteristics that had swayed the small specialty firm’s editor/founder toward acquiring the book. However, none of my subsequent books scratched the Progressive itch the same way.
To the contrary, several of the books’ characters expressed non-Progressive attitudes on subjects such as abortion, family-raising, capitalist economics, left-wing socio-religious cults, social media outrage mobs, and the importance of traditional national symbols. They weren’t there to preach or be didactic, but as natural outgrowths of the books’ characterizations and plots.
My friends at the specialty press (and they remain my good friends) were too polite, I think, to ever say this to me overtly, but I now believe they feared being ridiculed or ostracized by their right-thinking (meaning: left-thinking) colleagues and pals in the publishing industry had they dared to put out any of those eight books I offered.
I now believe they feared being ridiculed or ostracized by their right-thinking (meaning: left-thinking) colleagues and pals in the publishing industry had they dared to put out any of those eight books I offered.
There’s an old saying that a good working definition of insanity is trying the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results. Giving up on the hope of resurrecting my commercial publishing career hasn’t been easy.
A Hard Literary Habit to Break
I was born in 1964, and my literary formative years occurred during the heyday of mass market paperback publishing, when garishly illustrated cheap paperbacks by the titans of science fiction could be found virtually everywhere – in department stores, grocery stores, newsstands and on spinner racks at the corner convenience store.
When I first began writing back in the late 1970s, the only form of self-publishing was paid vanity publishing, which most definitely gave off a bad odor. Of course, so much has changed since the late 1970s.
I recognized this back in 2013 when my wife and I founded MonstraCity Press. We put out two of my books together during the first eight months after starting the firm, but then a family health crisis derailed our subsequent plans.
Now that I’m finally coming to terms with the overwhelming likelihood that my commercial publishing career will never rise from the dead, I’m turning back to the dormant MonstraCity Press in hopes of finding an audience for more than a decade’s worth of novels.
As painful as the abandonment of a lifelong aspiration has been, it has also been liberating.
If I won’t be making any sales to the New York or California publishing firms, I don’t need to censor myself any longer. I’m free to be counter-cultural, fringe, subversive, reactionary or scathingly satirical, as suits my fancy (and the little muse who whispers in my ear).
That sense of liberation helped spark the idea to publish “Hazardous Imaginings” and fund it through a crowdfunding platform. I decided this would be the best project with which to relaunch MonstraCity Press, since the proposed anthology’s emphasis on free-thinking and lack of self-censorship in science fiction would dovetail perfectly with the collection of novels I intend to publish.
The more recent impetus to put out Hazardous Imaginings was the passing of famed author and anthologist Harlan Ellison. Ellison’s more influential and enduring work (with the possible exception of his beloved Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”) was his pair of gargantuan original anthologies, “Dangerous Visions” and “Again, Dangerous Visions.”
These anthologies were the most famous artifacts of the American version of science fiction’s New Wave, the counterpart to Britain’s trendsetting New Dimensions magazine.
They mainly focused on smashing the taboos of the day, primarily sexual taboos – so many of the stories revolved around explorations of homosexuality, bisexuality, inter-species sex, incest and transsexuality.
Nowadays, virtually none of the stories would be considered shocking or controversial to most members of the reading audience, but in 1967 and 1972, their impact was like a grenade being exploded in the middle of John W. Campbell’s Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact offices.
Not long after Ellison died, I watched a documentary on his life and career, and I began wondering what a modern-day “Dangerous Visions” would be like.
What are TODAY’s taboos, the types of stories no commercial science fiction editor will touch?
This ‘Fiction’ Has Real-World Implications
I believe science fiction plays a vital role in American society. We as a society are more flexible, adaptable, and proofed against what Alvin Toffler called “future shock” when we are able to use science fiction to “war game” potential developments in technology and the resulting social, political, and psychological changes that cascade outward through our culture.
In order to play that role, however, science fiction has to be free – free from ideological conformity, free from preconceptions, and free from outside censorship or self-censorship. Also, I’m active in the homeland security realm.
I recently earned a master’s degree in Security Studies, and my thesis primarily concerned how the science fictional way of thinking can aid homeland security, national defense, and intelligence agencies in predicting and preparing for future terror threats.
I’m a member of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank that works with such agencies to provide the futurological expertise of science fiction writers.
What will happen to this contribution toward national security from the realm of science fiction if virtually all science fiction writers, like increasing numbers of employees at IT firms such as Amazon Web Services and Alphabet/Google, refuse to provide assistance to the U.S. military and homeland security agencies?
I’m launching “Hazardous Imaginings” to push back against the closing of science fiction’s communal mind.
Q: Why switch from Kickstarter to Freedomfy?
Fox: I think it’s extremely important for the health of our society to have a diversified social media and Internet infrastructure. After all, according to our liberal friends, “Diversity is our strength,” right? I feel that mantra especially applies in the economic and cultural realms, which is why none of us should be satisfied with our social media and Internet semi-monopolies of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google.
I had some trepidation about launching a campaign on Kickstarter, due to stories I’d read about crowdfunding platforms founded and managed by progressives yanking their approval from right-of-center projects once some online outrage activist complained.
But then I heard about Freedomfy and looked into it. I was intrigued and encouraged that a group of non-progressives had started their own crowdfunding platform. Also, they expressed a great desire to fund creative projects, including publishing projects. During their first year of operation, virtually all of the projects they’d funded had been political campaigns, political referenda, or membership drives.
Q: How much is fear of the PC mob influencing what writers write these days … any anecdotes you can share from fellow writers on this front?
Fox: I’ve already shared the unfortunate story of Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick and the SFFWA Bulletin. A somewhat similar tale involves a fine author (and a woman who is firmly on the political Left), Elizabeth Moon, who wrote the award-winning novel “The Speed of Dark.”
In 2010, she was invited by the organizers of WisCon, a prominent feminist science fiction convention, to be their Guest of Honor. But then an online outrage mob pointed out that Moon had written a blog post (gently) criticizing the American Muslim community’s decision, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, to plead for protection against anticipated oppression and suppression, rather than condemning the terrorists and invoking some communal self-examination.
Moon was promptly disinvited from WisCon, even though she had been one of the field’s most prominent female and feminist writers since the 1970s.
More recently, we’ve seen a vicious online shaming of one of the field’s most distinguished and prolific writers, Robert Silverberg, who has been a leading science fiction writer since the mid-1950s, an astoundingly lengthy and resilient career.
In 2018, following the third consecutive Hugo Awards ceremony at which woman-of-color N. K. Jemisin was awarded the Hugo for Best Novel (she had published a trilogy), Silverberg commented in a private online chat room that he considered her acceptance speech to have been particularly graceless.
Despite having won an unprecedented three consecutive Best Novel Hugos, Jemisin delivered an angry, condemnatory speech focused mainly on the alleged racism and sexism rife within the science fiction and fantasy field, which she ended by brandishing her third Hugo statuette as a rhetorical bludgeon against a man who wasn’t present, Vox Day, a provocateur who had called Jemisin some nasty names on his blog.
One must understand that, like Barry Malzberg, Robert Silverberg has dedicated his entire life to science fiction. For him, the Hugo Awards ceremony is akin to a joyous communal religious celebration. So I’m sure he sat appalled when Jemisin chose to turn such an occasion into a Maoist reeducation session about White male guilt.
An unscrupulous member of that forum then leaked Silverberg’s comments, which focused entirely on Jemisin’s gracelessness, not her sex or her race, to a public forum, from which they were picked up and trumpeted gleefully by Vox Day.
Predictably, Silverberg was thenceforth tarred as a racist and a sexist and whatever other awful isms there are lurking in the fevered imaginations of the Internet.
Very recently, I experienced a creepy totalitarian vibe in a very surprising venue. This was a private online chat room reserved for science fiction writers who advise the U.S. military, homeland security agencies and allied intelligence services.
I had just come up with the idea to do “Hazardous Imaginings,” and I put out an inquiry asking who might be interested in contributing a story addressing a modern-day taboo. Of the handful of members who responded, two-thirds insisted on contacting me privately, through email, rather than out in the open in the private chat room.
Those who did so told me they’d contacted me privately because they didn’t want the others to know. They said if word got out, it could damage their careers.
Such caution, lack of trust, and fear in that kind of venue? I was reminded of “The Lives of Others,” the film about the East German Stasi’s omnipresent surveillance of its citizens, in which parents needed to watch what they said in front of their own children, in their own homes, for fear the children had been recruited as informants.
This is the state of science fiction today, sadly. We’re choking ourselves with yellow CAUTION tape.
Q: You’ve said science fiction is the natural home for contrarians … can you share any current writers who are bucking the cultural trends, in a positive way?
Fox: One of the all-time greats of the field, Gene Wolfe, among a handful of science fiction and fantasy authors who will likely still be read a hundred or two hundred years from now, passed away recently. Wolfe was a devoted Catholic, and much of his fiction was colored by this traditional religious sensibility.
He is best known for his Book of the New Sun series, which centers on a state-sanctioned Torturer in a far-future Earth who becomes the planet’s unlikely savior. Wolfe was prominent enough in the field that he felt secure speaking about his beliefs, and even granting interviews to conservative magazines online.
I very recently became aware of an anthology called Forbidden Thoughts, edited by Jason Renie for Superversive Press in 2017. It features stories and essays by Tom Kratman, Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Brad R. Torgersen and John C. Wright, and others, many of whom publish novels through Baen Books.
Q: How much will you be contributing to this collection and what can you tell me about those stories?
Fox: How much I’ll be personally contributing to Hazardous Imaginings depends entirely on the success (or lack of success) of my funding campaign through Freedomfy. I intend to pay a professional rate, $.06/word, for the stories I’ll buy. If I meet my funding goal of $4,000.00, I’ll be able to buy about 60,000 words of original fiction, and I’ll round out the anthology with a 40,000 word novella I’ve written that fits the book’s theme perfectly.
One of my stories, “Six Wings Hath They,” features an Evangelical heroine, a cafeteria cook and server at an agricultural college in East Texas, as she engages with a group of bug-like aliens visiting from a far-off world who say they want to save humanity.
Another, “Rush Limbaugh’s Twilight Zone Episode,” posits an alternate universe in which prominent writers from across the political spectrum are invited to submit scripts for a new revival of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” I write a 30-minute “Twilight Zone” script as I imagine Rush Limbaugh would, mimicking his sardonic sense of humor and targeting his usual suspects in the off-kilter Twilight Zone manner.
Q: Do you think we’re close to a pendulum swing moment when free expression makes a comeback? If not, what could kickstart it?
Fox: For a while it appeared that the Intellectual Dark Web might make contrarianism cool and trendy, but I fear that momentum has been lost. Quillette makes a good go of creating a “safe space” for a variety of viewpoints, some of them very unfashionable, but it is just one website (and it is headquartered in Australia, a bit off the beaten path, although this matters much less now than it would’ve 15 years ago).
I really think that if the Overton Window is to be pushed more widely open to accommodate viewpoints in fiction other than those of Progressive trendsetters, it will have to be done by independent publishers.
Unfortunately, it is the writers who are dependent upon corporate publishing firms for their livelihoods who are the most susceptible to the sorts of online blame-and-shame campaigns I describe above.
Writers accused online of racism, sexism, anti-LGBQT bigotry, bigotry against Islam (but generally not against other religions), cultural insensitivity, or cultural appropriation have seen their publishers swiftly cancel their book contracts.
Very few publishers will risk facing a boycott or a campaign of online condemnation, whatever the validity or truthfulness of the originating incitement; it is much easier for them to dispose of the “toxic” writer, instead.
This is just one reason why a vibrant, resilient, multi-platform self-publishing infrastructure has become so very important. If writers are ever to take risks again by opposing or subverting the cultural consensus, it will likely need to take place through publishing venues that are immune to the types of protest tactics that work so well against the Big Five publishing houses. These publishing houses, smelling the welcome scent of profits, have successfully launched segregated imprints devoted to conservative or libertarian non-fiction.
However, none, apart from independent Baen Books and a few small Christian publishers, have founded any imprint devoted to publishing fiction representing viewpoints outside the Progressive mainstream.
I think the only way independent, free-thinking science fiction will gain any traction among the reading public will be if its writers band together to support one another and to build a new set of alternative support structures – book review sites, book design and marketing co-ops, new distribution channels apart from Amazon, juried awards for independently published fiction, and more.
Supporting alternative crowdfunding platforms, other than the “Big Two” of Kickstarter and Gofundme, will also be helpful in establishing a free-thinking beach-head in the publishing realm. I am hopeful that my current project with Freedomfy will be merely the first of many publishing projects to be successfully funded through that service.