If you’ve read this blog in the past, you may have seen me mention the work of Isaac Asimov. This will be the last time that I do that. I have a simple reason for it.
Isaac Asimov abused women. I’m not going to go through the details of it here; Google will turn them up easily enough. Exactly what he did isn’t entirely relevant. It’s what the consequences are, and should have been, because evidently the SF world did what far too many communities have historically done and apologized for it and covered it up.
It was something I had sort of heard hints and sideways references to, but never bothered to find out very much about. Then recently, for whatever reason, I seriously looked into it, and what I (very easily) found was horrific. Of course then comes the question: Now that you know, what do you do about it?
There isn’t a lot that I can do, obviously. Asimov died years ago and even if he was still alive my condemnation would matter very little. But, after giving it some thought, I am at least going to discard my copies of all his books that have been on my shelves for a very long while. Some of them went to university with me, all those many years ago, but even these old companions have to go.
I admit one of my first thoughts about this – and it doesn’t flatter me – was disappointment that I would never read an Asimov story again. But this is exactly the reaction that has enabled not just the abuse of women, but so many kinds of abuse, to thrive: the impulse to put one’s own career, or convenience, or even one’s own passing pleasure, above the suffering of another human being.
We must do better.
Recently a lot of people have asked whether or not it is possible to separate the artist from the art, to love and enjoy their work even while we condemn the person who made it. My problem with that is two fold. First, in accepting their art, we inevitably accept the artist. We at least imply (and I think more than that) that their behaviour is ok, because we still buy the book or go to the movie or watch the TV show. This is the opposite of what we should be doing.
My other objection is that there are so very many worthy artists out there, struggling to have their work seen, that honestly we can easily do without the art that comes from awful people who hurt their fellow human beings so profoundly. Instead of being sad that I won’t be reading Asimov again, I should be (and am, really) excited about the people I will be reading instead, because there are writers who are just as good and even far better who are also far superior human beings.
Some people object in return that if we do this we will have to discard a lot of artists, a lot of people, in general. Unfortunately, they’re probably right. But, if we want to stop having a society where women are routinely harassed and abused, well, no-one said the job was going to be a small one. So, yes, Asimov is out, along with my H.P. Lovecraft. I can find books that I will be proud to fill the space on those shelves with.
It’s probably fair to ask how much of a difference any of this makes. The books are long bought and their writer is long dead, so it isn’t even a question of ‘supporting’ anyone at this point. Is it an empty gesture?
I’m not persuaded that it is, entirely. If there is really to be lasting change for our society’s tolerance for the mistreatment of women, there have to be lasting consequences for abusers. Yes, even after they’re gone. We need to send a message, that we will not brush things under the carpet because the stories were good or they were important in their field. We won’t say kind things about them, we won’t honour their name, and their books won’t be on our shelves. If that’s all we can do at this late remove, then we shall at least do that.
Thanks for reading.
Today is a truly sad day for lovers of SFF and writing in general, as the great Ursula K. Le Guin has passed away at the age of 88. I’m not going to attempt to write anything about her importance as a writer or her impact on her field. Those tributes are springing up everywhere, deservedly so, and doing a much finer job of praising this wonderful writer than I would be able to.
The only thing I want to say is that I kind of encountered (not in the sense of actually meeting her, alas) Le Guin twice. I was introduced to her writing by that Prisoners of Gravity show I’ve mentioned a bunch of times, which brought up her Left Hand of Darkness I think every other episode. Again, deservedly so. So I knew she was a very good and bold writer.
I didn’t realize until much more recently that she was an equally bold and courageous thinker about writing, and about our society. She used the platform she earned for herself to try to do good and promote positive changes and that is just as great a thing as the books she wrote.
I’m very sad that she has left us, but I feel ever so grateful that she was with us at all.