I’ve been considering science fiction awards named after flawed human beings lately.
Of course, on my blog, this all started with Jeannette Ng’s Campbell Award Acceptance Speech and Here We Go Again, and then continued into The Sins of John W. Campbell Revisited, Tiptree Award Name May Change (Here We Go Again), and here, and here, and so on.
Then, I saw today that someone has read an article I’d written last January called Out of the Ashes of Avalon. I had been exploring the serious allegations of child neglect and abuse leveled at beloved feminist fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as the fact that her husband was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing her daughter (and some say Bradley actively participated in that abuse).
What surprised me most wasn’t that Bradley was possibly (likely) capable of both failing to protect her minor age daughter and possibly sexually abusing her own child, but that there seemed to be some sort of debate between more conservative and more liberal participants and fans in SciFi as to whether this constituted any sort of “problem” with Bradley.
True, many liberal voices in science fiction condemned Bradley, but not all. Admittedly, her defenders are (or should be) few and far between. Protecting a child from sexual abuse is something that (should) transcends political and social barriers. It is (should be) a standard that all morally upright human beings (should) possess.
Just for giggles, I Googled “Marion Zimmer Bradley award.” I was momentarily shocked when this page showed up. Then I saw that it was a list of the awards Bradley’s works had accumulated, not an award named after her.
In light of all of the other drama and trauma about “fallen angels” in the history of science fiction in particular, and literature in general, if Bradley’s name had been attached to an award, in terms of her history, would it have been removed?
I hope so. In her case, the reasoning would be abundantly, breathtakingly clear. There are few (if any) crimes more grievously heinous than sexually (or otherwise) abusing your own child. After all, parents are presumed to be protectors of their children. I know that if any one had hurt any of my children, or now, any of my grandchildren, my response would be swift and decisive. That’s what you do when you love your family.
So to fail in that duty, makes you not only a betrayer of trust and a criminal, but consigns you to a special circle of Hell for, not the merely flawed, but the shamefully damned. My opinion anyway.
I did discover according to this comment, that while no one actively supported Bradley’s abuse of her daughter, there were some who dismissed it, stating that her daughter, not being “social justice” supporting, somehow deserved it, at least retroactively now that she’s an adult.
First of all, as I stated here, for some folks on the left, why is anyone right of center (or right of extreme far left progressiveness) always considered “alt-right?” Secondly, referring to Rambo’s comment, does Bradley’s (alleged) sexual abuse of her own daughter somehow pale in comparison to the vast body of rude comments and actions by President Trump? I mean, by Trump’s behavior being horrible, does that mean Bradley’s behavior, because she was an “artist,” was “okay?”
Of course, there were a few who stood up to Rambo and called child abuse what it is.
I have no idea who the “proven pedophile running for Congress” was supposed to be, but let’s focus on Donald Trump. What, if any, are his sex crimes against children? I had to look it up, and according to Snopes (yes, I know, I know),
In late April 2016, rumors began to circulate online holding that Republican presidential Donald Trump had either been sued over, or arrested for, raping a teenaged girl. One of the earliest versions of the rumor was published on 2 May 2016 by the Winning Democrats web site, which reported that woman using the name Katie Johnson had named Trump and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in a $100 million lawsuit, accusing them of having solicited sex acts from her at sex parties held at the Manhattan homes of Epstein and Trump back in 1994 (when Johnson was just 13 years old) [Quoted directly from the website, all grammatical errors belong to Snopes]
Now, it’s important to be clear, the allegations against Bradley are largely the result of her now adult daughter’s allegations against her mother. We believe them because we believe the victim. We also believe them because Bradley’s husband was convicted in a court of law of the crime and sentenced to prison, which at least makes Bradley guilty of failure to protect.
The allegations against Trump and Epstein, in this particular instance, are based on the accusations of the now adult accuser who was 13 years old at the time of the event(s). Is Trump as guilty, more guilty, or less guilty than Bradley? It remains to be seen if Donald Trump is a proven pedophile.
The GQ article When Does America Reckon with the Gravity of Donald Trump’s Alleged Rapes? concludes:
There are too many red flags to ignore. Trump has proven himself to be a danger to women in his personal orbit, and his leadership is a danger to women and girls across the world. Now that his powerful friend is being held accountable for heinous sex crimes, the allegations against the president warrant much further scrutiny.
I know I’m going off on a bit of a tangent, but since Rambo brought it up, I have to at least address the issue. We tend to think that “If there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and if so, then not only Trump, but the Clintons and a good many other political and other public figures are guilty of whatever they’re accused of in social and news media, a legal court finding notwithstanding.
There was a court finding against Bradley’s husband, so we have that. As far as Rambo’s allegations, do we have anything? Look, I’m not saying Trump isn’t guilty, but with a lack of concrete evidence, let alone a conviction, how am I supposed to respond?
My point is that, in such a contentious environment, if we condemn John W. Campbell Jr. for his “fascism” and strip an award of his name, and if we condemn James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) for entering into a murder/suicide pact with her chronically ill husband, then we must, repeat must unreservedly condemn Bradley for her part in damaging if not destroying the life of her own child.
Of course (to the best of my knowledge), there’s no award bearing Bradley’s name, so I suppose the point is moot. We just need to be clear that if we apply a standard to some people based on their crimes and their sins, it must apply to all. Politics and social affiliations must matter not.
EDIT: I posted links to this blog post in various social media venues including MeWe. Someone responded with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress 33. This is an anthology of fantasy short stories by various authors, and the “blurb” at Amazon states:
For over two decades, the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, best-selling and beloved author, discovered and nurtured a new generation of authors. The roster of contributors over the years includes Mercedes Lackey, Laurell K. Hamilton, Charles de Lint, Diana L. Paxson, Emma Bull, Jennifer Roberson, and countless others.
It was published in 2018, so it’s not like Bradley’s past was unknown.
Okay, so it’s not an award, but it is an honor to have an anthology named after you. I know I’d be honored. But given everything we know about Bradley, how are we supposed to respond to this? As far as I know, no one in science fiction/fantasy fandom (yes, that fandom) has ever mentioned it, let alone led the righteous crusade of outrage against it. Methinks something may be up.
After a brief search, I found that this series goes back to at least volume 28 published in 2013, so it’s been around maybe five years or so.
I was going to say, should there be a volume 34 in 2019, but then I discovered there already is, and it’s available for pre-order, coming out on October 29th.
But I guess because it’s not an award, it doesn’t matter. Oy.
I wonder when an author whose story is selected for publication in Bradley’s “Sword and Sorceress” will publicly go on record as refusing because they can’t be seen to associate with the name of a child abuser? Anyone? Anyone at all?