Wrong. I worry that the Hugo fiasco simply brought certain people out of the woodwork. Unpopular though they may be with fandom at large, writers and readers of that slant have continued to spread animosity. I’m not getting into the reasons, the key individuals, or the rhetoric—you can find that elsewhere, on blogs that do a much better job documenting it than I could.
I’m bothered at how these groups have claimed certain writers as their own, particularly deceased authors whose work still influences the genre. These authors aren’t without controversy—Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarianism, H.P. Lovecraft’s racism—but they’re without a voice, since they are dead. Yet some people love to hold these authors up like an icon reflecting their own politics, usually in the face of criticism.
Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, is the latest to be hoisted as such an icon. Unfortunately, I feel he won’t be the last. I’ll return to him in a moment. First, a little background.
There are those who think people of color shouldn’t be intruding on a genre where white men have dominated; there are those who claim to be victims of a politically correct system just because their work doesn’t receive accolades. Worse still, these people rail against changes to the status quo, in genres where stories about change and the unknown are the norm. It’s narrow-minded hypocrisy, wreathed in stagnant mediocrity.
Women and people of color have been writing masterpieces of the genre for decades, but in recent years, they have gained more recognition as society itself has changed. That’s a good thing, for diversity, as well as science fiction itself. But what really matters is that they are great writers. That’s ultimately how these individuals got recognized in the first place. When I voted on the Nebulas and the Hugos earlier this year, I favored the stories that moved me, the ones I thought about for days afterward. I didn’t care about who their authors were, their skin color, their sexual orientation, their religion, or their politics. The Puppies asked for the same treatment, but then summarily insulted, bullied, threatened, libeled, and criticized any who disagreed with their tactics, or the slate of sub-par fiction they claimed represented their best. Now those are things that will make me not buy your book—let alone get my vote. However, I read all the entries. Many were bad. I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
Of course, the Puppies lost. Fandom moved on. Real writers kept writing instead of making excuses, or bitching.
Now, these same types are trying to control the conversation regarding one of my favorite writers, Robert E. Howard. Longtime contributors have been struck from blogs, and their essays removed. Even their pictures have been excised. Again, if you want to find out who and why, look it up. I’m not regurgitating that nonsense on my blog.
Howard’s energy, passion, and existentialism have long been an influence on my writing, but the man wasn’t perfect. There is thinly-veiled, and often overt, racism in several of his stories where people of color are involved. I’m not citing examples; read his work for yourself. Howard often portrayed women as little more than sexual objects; beauties to be saved by the protagonist, or to tempt him. His heroes were larger-than-life men brimming with machismo, who were unstoppable killing machines. It’s easy to see why, on the surface, why a bunch of misogynist regressives would claim Howard as one of their own.
Of course, they’re wrong.
Howard penned several stories that featured sword-wielding heroines (Red Sonja, Dark Agnes, Belit, Valeria) that fought just as well, if not better, than men. They lived life on their own terms, and dared anyone to take that away from them. They were lusty, quaffed alcohol, and refused to surrender to societal norms concerning ‘a woman’s place’. All of which were anathema in the era when Howard wrote these characters.
I’m not saying Howard was some proto-feminist writer, or even a progressive one. I’m not going to use the cliché excuse that ‘he was a product of his time’ either, because that’s a copout to bigotry. Many of his political views are at odds with my own. Howard was an insecure man, living in a conservative town, who learned about the world from colonial, and often racist, writers. He could still write one hell of a story, though, and that’s why his books are on my shelves. It’s the same reason Heinlein and Lovecraft have a place in my library. They knew how to tell a story.
It’s obvious Howard’s not another poster child that the Puppies, Gamergate, and their allies can use to further their agenda. See, I’m not like these other people who try to claim Howard as their own, or that women and feminists have no right to comment on Howard’s work. I’m secure enough with myself as a person, that I don’t need to bully those who dislike my work, that I don’t need to excoriate others because they disagree with me, and that I don’t need to hijack the persona of a long-dead, beloved writer to represent my politics.
Those that do are afraid. Their world is changing, and they don’t like it. I suggest they examine the attitude of Conan, Howard’s greatest creation, who feared no human, beast, or god. He forged on with his existence. Conan didn’t bitch about life; he lived it. To quote:
“I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”
A person like that lives on their own terms, without trying to prevent others from doing the same. A person like that is more concerned with enjoying life, instead of resisting imaginary assaults upon so-called sacred cows of fandom. Robert E. Howard’s heroes and heroines all fought their own battles, rather than appeal to gods, kings, or flimsy political agendas. They took responsibility for themselves, and their actions. If these Puppies and their allies want something of Howard to champion, if should be that.