A new brouhaha has exploded with the Science Fiction Writers of America. I’ll use snippets.
SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America, an organisation of which I am a member (on account of my having just a slight interest in writing and selling SF in that country) managed to get into a huge public relations mess back in August/September, when Dr. Andrew Burt, acting on his own initiative as a member of the SFWA e-piracy committee, caused a major screw-up in dealing with Scribd, a text file sharing website. (Details on the whole debacle start here; for SFWA’s response see here: more here
As a result, the old committee was disbanded. A study group set up to figure out how to do this better. Stross goes on to say:
The core of our report, in a nutshell, was this: SFWA should represent its members interests when asked to do so. (It should also poll the membership to figure out what they want to do.) In order to deal with members asking SFWA to act against copyright infringements, SFWA should establish a new copyright advisory committee to replace of the piracy committee, with set procedures (and a quorum of members required to implement them) to avoid anything like the earlier debacle recurring.
A further recommendation was discussed, but the general feeling was that it would be inappropriate to put it in the committee’s formal report. It was my understanding that it would be brought to the attention of the president of SFWA via a back channel. This recommendation was simple: that at all costs, Andrew Burt must be kept the hell away from the copyright committee. In view of his earlier activities, his appointment to it would automatically destroy any credibility the new body would have — not to mention sending out a clear signal that SFWA is a dysfunctional organization, institutionally incapable of learning from bad experiences.
In the end, though Burt is back in charge. His first action:
To get back in the saddle against scribd, repeating many of the same mistakes in how to handle these things (negotiation and management) that annoyed many about him in the first place. In other words, no lesson learned.
John Scalzi has his write up. He isn’t upset, just puzzled that Burt was chosen.
That said, I think the board choose puzzlingly, to use as polite a word as possible, in its choice of chairman for the new committee, for some of the reasons which Charlie outlines in incendiary but not unreasonable fashion. It would not have been my choice, for those reasons and a few others (the suggestion in the board’s statement that our committee recommended installing the chairman of the new committee is quite obviously in error).
My buddy Jim Hines summarizes his feelings in a manner very close to my own:
-The focus of the committee was to put forth recommendations that would work regardless of the individual in charge of the committee. I would like to believe that those policies, if followed, will still help to prevent messes like the one that first propelled the excrement toward the fan flabellum**.
-I’m disappointed to see Andrew Burt once again in charge.
My own take is that I’m not surprised to see Burt back in charge. I expected him to use every means at his disposal to remain there. As he pointed out in the last election he has set it up so that nothing can be done without him (due to his volunteering for every committee he can and designing a lot of procedures and technical stuff so that he’s the bottleneck, it’s completely unsurprising). I’m just disappointed.
I do think that the committee did good work. I hope all their points are taken.
That being said, I did have another personal reaction. To frame this one, we need to travel back in time a couple months to when I was finishing up my last book.
I had a bit of a health scare. Something with symptoms that were eerily like a form of cancer. I made a doctor’s appointment, but I had a day before I could get in.
So I didn’t sleep. At all. And really late into one night I did that thing you do where you sit down and reevaluate your whole life on a sheet of paper in list form because you’re staring death in the eye a bit, or at least, more aware of your mortality than normal.
To frame that, every once in a while in life, I list things that are getting in the way of my hopes and dreams and seek to eliminate them. In college I restructured where I lived on campus, moved to a single room, and completely ended a long list of friendships that I felt got in the way of my pursuing writing. I shifted everything around. And I turned my life upside down.
I list ’emotional blackholes,’ things that suck away your energy to enjoy life, keep a positive can-do attitude, or that otherwise chip away at your attention.
And one of the things that leapt to my attention two months ago was what I felt was the toxic atmosphere of some aspects of SFWA’s private newsgroups and how that was one of those blackholes. Faced with my own mortality during the cancer scare I thought “would my life be better without all that crap?”
The answer was a big “yes.”
The next day the doctor diagnosed me. “I’ll bet you you thought you had cancer, didn’t you?” he chuckled. I just had another random ailment, nothing special, thank goodness.
But that list sat on my desk for my consideration for a long time. (The new sports car is, probably, a result of that list)
Leaving SFWA wasn’t something I felt I could do now that I knew I was okay because I had 2 obligations I’d agreed to this year.
The first was that I had agreed to edit an anthology: South American Masters. This was to be in the vein of European Masters, edited by James Morrow. I have familiarity with the culture and speak some Spanish, and can read it/understand it better than speak it. I had agreed to head putting this together, an opportunity that I was honored to be chosen for and genuinely excited about.
The second, I had agreed to, including posting money of my own if necessary, lead revamping the Nebula related web side of SFWA. This was the largest obligation. I’d agreed to serve. My name is my name, it’s really important to me. Some people may not care for me, but going back on a big commitment is something I don’t want to do lightly. This was the agonizing thing.
I had invested a lot of time over the last couple months reviewing the content, and on the recommendation of the designer I talked to, looking at Expression Engine as an engine for the new site. I had a lot of planning already invested here.
But, seeing another huge flame war getting ready to brew over this, and just my general ‘tired’ feeling when I saw what was happening, I thought, it’s time to take a break.
I’m not demanding anyone step down, it’s not even a protest leave. I’m not sure if it’s a forever leave, there’s always the possibility that someone will report that the private areas are no longer acidic and nasty to people. It’s just that I’m tired and I have a writing career that needs close attention. I have books that need my love.
I know people online will fight. I know people will struggle over differing opinions. But still, I have this odd opinion that more gets done in forums where respect and civility prevail. Yeah, I’ve been mocked for expecting that civility and professionalism decorum prevail, and even tried my best to lead by example. But it made no difference. I would happily remain in SFWA, if there were some other way that news was communicated timely to members without my having to wade into the muck, but as it is, too many big decisions came about in there, decisions that if I were part of an organization, I wanted input on.
And if I weren’t a part of 3 professional organizations (2 writers ones) that had online civility and professional, I might even imagine that the mockers were correct. But I’ve seen how professionals can conduct themselves even with wildly differing opinions, and I know what it is.
Partly, in acidic environments, I worry about my own self getting dragged down to other people’s levels, as I get caught up in it. I don’t want that crap in my life. I’m tired.
I’m just tired.
So this is a very long blog entry saying, I sent in my cancellation. I passed on a recommendation to who could edit the South American Masters anthology. I offered a kill fee of 50% of the design fee to the designer in question in case SFWA doesn’t keep him on (I think they should, fwiw). And I asked that I right away get my username and password shut down.
I am being honest when I say that this was a hard, sad thing to do. I have a number of very close friends that I admire and trust who serve for SFWA, and in some ways I feel like I’m letting them down.
But I have novels to write, and my fiction makes about half my income, I can’t afford to let anything effect it, and this gets in the way. So it must go…