Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes

ETA2: Anonymity and pseudonyms are important, and I believe they should be respected, for a number of reasons. However, I’m also aware that a handful of individuals have been actively shit-stirring and spreading disinformation in this ongoing conversation. VitaSineLibrisMorsEst will no longer be commenting on this blog. (Before anyone asks, no, this is not RH. Yes, I know who it is. No, I will not be sharing that information.)

ETA: I’ve gotten a wide range of comments and emails on this post. At least to some extent, I think I’ve screwed up.

  1. I am not defending RH. While I have some criticism of the way Laura Mixon presented her report, I’m grateful to her for doing so, and for shining a light on the abuse, harassment, and other attacks this individual has committed over the years. If my posts came off as a defense of RH, then that’s on me as the writer, and I apologize. This is someone who has been actively abusive, and while it might be ironic, given the title of this post, that’s something I absolutely do condemn.
  2. I’ve been told that some of what I’ve said here mirrors rhetoric being used elsewhere to portray RH as more of a heroic figure speaking truth to power, and dismissing her victims as whiny, thin-skinned authors out for revenge. To which I say Dammit, internets! But I see how I could come across as another voice in that chorus.
  3. A lot of people are hurting and afraid right now. RH’s victims are chief among them, and deserve support. I’ve been talking by email to minority writers who were stalked, threatened, and attacked by RH and her helpers, as well as to minority reviewers who are afraid because they see RH being condemned for her reviews as well as everything else. I believe all of these voices deserve to be acknowledged and heard.
  4. I tried to conflate a conversation about reviewing vs. bullying with a conversation about a specific individual who has hurt a great many people in the field. That was clumsy and stupid on my part. I should have picked one or the other. By trying to do both, I dulled and confused what I was trying to say. I’m sorry for that.

I’m continuing to struggle with all of this, and to sort it out in my own head. Thank you for your comments and your emails. Even the angry and critical ones. Especially those.


I’ve been thinking about some of the comments and emails I received after my blog post last week about online bullying and harassment. Several people expressed confusion about exactly what I was saying. Was I defending attacks on authors? Condemning angry reviews?

The answer was neither. I was trying — perhaps unsuccessfully — to acknowledge the damage this individual had done as well as the good.

That’s a little easier for me. To the best of my knowledge, I was never one of her targets. I get that it’s harder when you’re the one who’s been attacked. There’s an editor who’s publicly badmouthed me, calling me various names (“Rotten meat” is my favorite) and basically blacklisting me and a few other folks, among other things. When I see friends of mine working with him, I cringe. Don’t you know what this guy is like? How can you work with someone like that?

Maybe they don’t know what he’s like. Or maybe he’s actually a good editor, I don’t know. It’s hard for me to recognize there’s more here than my annoyance, and to recognize that he’s more than just a cardboard villain.

“Requires  Hate,” or whoever she is, hurt a lot of people. She bullied and threatened and harassed, and none of that is okay. She also raised valid critiques in her reviews, both of specific books and of the genre as a whole. Because yeah, a lot of SF/F is dominated by western culture, and is full of sexism and racism and cultural appropriation and other problems.

I’ve spoken to people who learned a lot from those reviews, and they’re scared to say so publicly, because it feels like an all-or-nothing conversation. The line has been drawn. You have to pick a side. And that’s damaging.

So I want to be very clear about my own thoughts and opinions here. Bullying is not okay. Threats and harassment, calls for violence against an author (or a reviewer, or anyone else) are not okay. Threatening and/or emotionally blackmailing others to condemn a work because you don’t like it, or because you don’t like the author, is not okay. So much of what RH did over the years was not okay, and these are behaviors we need to do a better job of recognizing and speaking out against.

But speaking up to say you find a book offensive? That it’s full of stereotypes, dehumanizing tropes, sexist or racist bullshit, and so on? Criticizing books and authors who perpetuate colonialism or the erasure and sidelining of women and minorities, of disabled and LGBTQ characters? That’s not only okay, it’s necessary. It’s important. Even when the reviewer is angry.

I’ve spoken with people who are watching this conversation and feel afraid, because they see a lot of rage and hostility toward a reviewer who identified as a lesbian and a woman of color. And while some of that rage and hostility feels justified, based on RH’s harassment and bullying, a fair number of us are falling into that all-or-nothing approach. RH is being condemned in entirety, and that includes both her harassment and her reviews and criticisms and so on.

I have a fair amount of power in our community, by virtue of being a published author, a Hugo-winning blogger, and a straight white American male. But imagine being a woman of color, a reviewer from a different culture, an LGBTQ reader, anyone who looks at the dominant narratives in our genre and sees themselves treated as lesser. Imagine feeling angry and wanting to speak up to power. And then imagine seeing quotes like these presented as evidence of damage done to a community by someone like you:

  • “Shit plot. Shit prose. Weeaboo maggotry.”
  • “It’s a regurgitation done without skill, with an extra dose of racism nobody asked for.”
  • “Easily the most overrated thing ever to come out recently, and I’m going to assume that people who gush over how groundbreaking it all is have only ever read Tolkien and Eragon.”

There’s a lot of anger in those comments. I may not agree with them, but so what? Reviewers are never 100% in agreement about anything. But those quotes are presented as part of the condemnation of RH. What’s the takeaway for other reviewers who feel that same anger? Will they be condemned or attacked if they’re not careful and gentle about how they post their reviews? Are they better off simply remaining silent altogether?

ETA: This in no way excuses comments and threats like:

  • “If I see *** being beaten in the street I’ll stop to cheer on the attackers and pour some gasoline on him.”
  • “her hands should be cut off so she can never write another Asian character.”
  • “Spread the word that *** is a raging racist fuck. Let him be hurt, let him bleed, pound him into the fucking ground. No mercy.”

I don’t think Laura Mixon was trying to silence anyone, and she’s done a tremendous amount of work putting that report together. I also give her credit for updating the report as she receives feedback. While I think there are some flaws, I believe that Mixon has done our family a service by bringing all of this out into the open. I know I’d certainly have flaws and problems if I tried to compile something that extensive.

But as this conversation continues, we have to step back from the all-or-nothing approach. Abuse and harassment are unacceptable. I don’t care who you are, or how you try to justify it. And I’m going to continue to work to do a better job recognizing and speaking out when I see it.

I also want to state for the record that blunt, pissed-off, negative reviews are not abuse. Anger is not abuse. Not that anyone needs my permission, but you have the right to your anger at books that rely on racist tropes, that treat women as objects to be raped or killed to motivate the men, that assume only white people exist or matter, that belittle your culture and community, or whatever else.

You have the right to express that anger, and you should be able to do so without fear of backlash from the author, or that the community will try to silence you for daring to voice that anger. Even if the book or story you’re putting through the shredder is one of mine. Because that review isn’t about me. It’s about you and your reaction to the work. And I support you and your right to tear it apart.