SFWA eats their own: Mercedes Lackey is made Grand Master, banned from Nebulas on same day
I once found woke ideology perfectly summed up by conservative commentator Jon Gabriel: a religion with many paths to damnation, but none to redemption. No matter what trails you blaze, what ground you break, how stanch and formidable an ally for The Cause™, you will eventually face your unpersoning at the hands of the Neojacobins. Just ask SFWA's most recently appointed Grand Master, Mercedes Lackey.
You're never woke enough
One can hardly imagine an author that could serve as a more suitable avatar of science fiction and fantasy's leftward arc over the past 40 years than Mercedes Lackey. The protégé of Marion Zimmer Bradley is largely credited for introducing mainstream fantasy's first openly gay hero, Vanyel Ashkevron in 1989's Magic's Pawn, the first book in her The Last Herald-Mage trilogy.
While that series of novels put the issue front and center, she'd woven sympathetic character treatments into prior stories set in the world of Valdemar. What she built in those books would eventually span a truly epic length of dozens of novels over the course of thousands of in-world years. From the series' debut in 1987 to its most recent entry, [easyazon_link identifier="B09GVZTGXV" locale="US" tag="upstreamreviews-20"]Into the West[/easyazon_link] (set to be published June 21 of this year) Lackey's work has never strayed from its humanizing and loving portrayal of LGBT characters.
She has been rightly held up as a pioneer in the genre and a champion for those who sought out representation of that sort. Hers was not merely low-grade erotic lip-service, either. It was quality fantasy writing that stood the test of time.
Then she misspoke on a panel.
Depaneled, Disinvited, Done For?
On May 21, Lackey was appointed Damon Knight Grand Master at this year's Nebula Awards. It's the highest honor SFWA can bestow to one of its member authors; with it, she joins the ranks of the likes of Gene Wolf, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock and William Gibson just to name a few.
The same day, she was speaking on a "Romancing Sci-Fi & Fantasy" panel during which she gave praise to fellow Grand Master Samuel Delaney, who is black. While the exact context, tone and manner of what was precisely said is not known, at some point Lackey, 72, referred to him as "colored", as opposed to the currently acceptable term of "person of color".
Regardless of how it came across, it seems there is virtually unanimous agreement that there was no malice behind it.
The fallout was predictably swift and naturally, unforgiving. After a groveling apology by SFWA, they further stated that online access to the panel was shut down, Lackey was to be removed from future panels, and they were conferring with other panelists as to how they would prefer to proceed, as well as offering to "edit out" the offensive slur.
With one single instance of an unintentional misstep, a 40 year legacy was set ablaze.
And like any true show trial, it didn't stop with her; Lackey's husband Larry Dixon (@LarryDixonTGK), a celebrated artist and author in his own right who was also attending, suddenly found himself persona non grata:
While Lackey's twitter feed has never been terribly active, Dixon for his part is understandably furious and has been laying bare the mental and emotional strain the recent attacks have had on her in a long thread on Twitter:
"All people see is a target for absolutist rage right now. The mob shows up, the mob savages, the mob leaves certain they've done the right thing... after killing someone who only ever helped them. Someone, using @SFWA, managed a devastating attack on her."
This isn't even the first time SFWA has rushed in to condemn the woman for past transgressions.
When Lackey was named back in November, a twenty-year old Q&A and a 2017 Quora post surfaced, in which she apparently held some intolerable opinion about the use of 'they' in the singular in regards to pronouns; for failing to sufficiently microparse this nu-speak blather, she was subsequently 'asked to clarify' her position, which of course required a wholly needless and public display of self-flagellation. Not even someone as thoroughly on the side of trans individuals as Lackey, whose reputation on the matter had been virtually unassailable for over thirty years, could escape the crime of retroactive wrongthink. The Committee of Public Safety had demanded that a display had to be made.
Meanwhile, SFWA wanted to tell everyone
This cannot possibly be a reference to comfort girls? The sex slaves used by the Japanese army during WWII, right? They'd never say something that obviously insensitive. Right?
Should this absurd non-controversy gain traction, it's not at a stretch to imagine that the recently optioned TV rights to her Valdemar series could be put in jeopardy. It was announced by Deadline Hollywood back in March of 2021 that Radar Pictures, the studio behind the recent Jumanji reboot had acquired the small screen rights and was assembling a who's who to cast, write and produce it. Lackey was quoted as being "nearly breathless with excitement" about the prospect of seeing her life's work adapted by a major studio.
But shows have been cancelled over far less, and there are few individuals less daring and creative than studio executives. Could this derail prospects for the show as well? Time will tell. This year will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It will be notorious as a year in which shameful conduct was on display that marred the organization's biggest event.
But that shame belongs entirely on the head of SFWA.