Silverberg complains about Jemisin

(This post is about last week’s Robert Silverberg quote that criticized N. K. Jemisin. If you read about it last week, there’s nothing new here. Content warning for descriptions of racism and for referring to Vox Day.)

Last week, Vox Day posted in his blog to the effect that the list of this year’s Hugo winners demonstrates that the Rabid Puppies have won. (This has been a standard tactic of his from the start: no matter what happens, declare victory.)

His post included a quote from Robert Silverberg as evidence that a “legitimate award-winning science fiction writer” was now onboard with the Rabid Puppies agenda. Here’s what Silverberg wrote (as I understand it, this was on a private mailing list that Vox Day is also on):

I have not read the Jemison books. Perhaps they are wonderful works of science fiction deserving of Hugos every year from now on. But in her graceless and vulgar acceptance speech last night, she insisted that she had not won because of 'identity politics,' and proceeded to disprove her own point by rehearsing the grievances of her people and describing her latest Hugo as a middle finger aimed at all those who had created those grievances.

First of all, that’s a pretty “graceless and vulgar” comment. The phrase “the grievances of her people” is a racist dog-whistle. This use of “perhaps,” with its exaggerated praise and its implicit “…but I doubt it,” is a standard rhetorical device for subtextually criticizing someone. (It’s certainly possible to say something like that without casting doubt, but this is not the phrasing to use if you’re sincere in thinking that someone’s work might really be wonderful.) The phrase “those who had created those grievances” is sloppy writing.

But even setting all that aside: as Tempest pointed out last week, Silverberg has no room at all to complain about vulgarity in a Hugo-related speech, given (among other things) his routine a couple years ago when co-presenting the Best Novel award with Pat Cadigan, when he did an extended bit approvingly quoting George R. R. Martin’s description of getting the Best Novel award as having a “big one.”

In other words, according to Silverberg, when GRRM makes gratuitous dick jokes on the Hugo stage, comparing the award to a penis, they’re not only funny but worth repeating at length. But when Nora refers to her Hugo as a middle finger to the racists who’ve reviled her, it’s vulgar.

Double standard much, Silverberg?

I’ll take this opportunity to link to a video recording of Nora’s excellent speech, in case anyone hasn’t seen it and wants to. (6-min video)

Among other things, she talks about the Broken Earth trilogy as being partly about “what it takes to live, let alone thrive, in a world that seems determined to break you. A world of people who constantly question your competence, your relevance, your very existence…”

In the unlikely event that you really want to read Vox Day’s post, I’m providing a link to a copy of the post on Freezepage. (Thanks to Lucy for the link!) But I absolutely do not recommend reading his post or the comments on it; I’m just putting that link here for ease of reference.

(Facebook version of this post.)

10 Responses to “Silverberg complains about Jemisin”

  1. Sumana Harihareswara

    I have my own past criticisms of Silverberg (from the 2015 ceremony). But: how certain are we that he actually wrote this thing that he is purported to have written? (I apologize for not checking the sources in this case but I am trying here to err on the side of not raising my blood pressure.)

  2. Jed

    Good question. I’m not 100% certain. When I wrote this post, I was under the misimpression that Vox Day was himself on the fictionmags list, but it turns out he’s not, he just said he got this from someone who is on the list.

    But I’ve seen multiple people who appear to be in the know say that Silverberg did in fact write it. For example, Scalzi initially indicated that he didn’t believe Silverberg had written it, and then followed up with a comment that I’m reading as implying that he now does believe Silverberg wrote it. Various people have said that Silverberg publicly released the following followup statement:

    I have no access to Facebook. But I wish someone would let the multitudes hear my statement that I wasn’t being racist, I simply feel that a Hugo acceptance speech should express gratitude, not anger.

    For more, see comments at File 770 (on that and subsequent pages of comments; I did a search-in-page for Silverberg).

    And I’m told, by people who used to be on fictionmags, that various people, including Silverberg, regularly post this kind of thing there. And unlike those who defended Silverberg about this, I feel like his original comment is entirely in keeping with some of the kinds of things I’ve seen him say in person and heard from trusted friends about his saying. (This paragraph isn’t evidence that he said it; just intended as saying that nothing about the venue or the person make me think he wouldn’t or couldn’t have said it.)

    So … I don’t have proof that Silverberg wrote either of those statements, but I feel pretty confident that he did.

    But thank you for raising the question; fact-checking is important, and I appreciate the reminder.

    • Sumana Harihareswara

      Much thanks, Jed. I suppose I was hoping that it would turn out the quote was completely made up, or misleadingly edited! I am disappointed to learn that it is genuine, but grateful for your followup research.

  3. Jemisin vs. Silverberg: Defining Culture and Race | Lela E. Buis

    […] acceptance speech for her 3rd Best Novel win. In a discussion group he thought was private, he commented that he thought her conduct at the ceremony had been graceless and offensively political. He was […]

  4. Billy

    [I removed a comment here (from a random stranger) that attacked Nora and anyone who likes her work, and that implied that the only reason to support her is to be politically correct. I don’t see a need to provide a platform for this kind of thing, so I deleted the comment. —Jed]

  5. Cat Eldridge

    That mailing list is private, so any repeating comments from that list is a clear violation of the agreement that every individual made when they joined that list as I did. I never talked about what is talked on that list, nor should anyone else. Note that I don’t identify what list that is.

    • Jed

      I’m not clear on why you’re more interested in posting here to criticize whichever anonymous person made Silverberg’s comment public three years ago (I have no idea who it was, and I’m not on the list so I didn’t make any agreements about it) than you are in criticizing Silverberg for his graceless and vulgar (and racist and hypocritical) remarks.

  6. El hombre en el laberinto, de Robert Silverberg | C

    […] al día de este asunto, obviando las ramificaciones, se pueden leer estos dos enlaces: “Silverberg complains about Jemisin” y la respuesta del propio autor en “Racism and […]

  7. Pedro Nord

    [I removed a comment here (from a random stranger) that criticized Nora and talked about how awesome Silverberg is. Apparently the person who posted the comment didn’t read any of my responses to other comments above. So, for future reference: I’m going to continue to delete comments here from strangers who care so much about defending Silverberg that they apparently didn’t bother to read anything that I’ve written in this post or in my comments and responses. —Jed]

    [Also worth noting: The commenter here bizarrely framed their comment in terms of “If Jemisin made those comments.” I’m not sure which comments in particular they were referring to, but it’s very easy to find out what Nora said, by following the link that I provided and watching her excellent speech. Anyone who can’t be bothered to find out what she said has no business commenting on this topic. —Jed]

  8. Sobre George R. R. Martin nos Hugo Awards 2020 – Gelo & Fogo

    […] em relação às novas gerações, e uma rejeição a ele foi amplificada quando vieram a público críticas que fez ao tom do discurso de N. K. Jemisin quando ela venceu o Hugo de Melhor Romance pela terceira vez […]


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