Bewildering Stories Editorial
by Jerry Wright and Don Webb
We Stand Our Ground
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
— Constitution of the United States, Amendment I
(in force since December 15, 1791)
Since Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, no one shall make such a law. And that includes those who would make Bewildering Stories a scapegoat for the personal lives and views of any of our authors.
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It’s said that even bad publicity is good publicity. But under the circumstances, Bewildering Stories would just as soon pass it up. One of our former contributors, Mr. Kenneth Eng, apparently published an article in a San Francisco newspaper that has a specialized audience. The article has caused a national furor.
We’re told that the newspaper has since withdrawn the article. However, a blogger lambasted Mr. Eng for writing it and the newspaper for printing it — but then proceeded to reproduce a facsimile of the entire article on his own website. The blogger’s words and deeds seem contradictory; he can’t have it both ways.
In the meantime, our publisher, Jerry Wright, has been flooded with e-mail intended for Mr. Eng. A lot of it unfairly attacks Bewildering Stories. Here are two examples:
Not only do I think you should reconsider promoting this bad writer and hateful self-proclaimed “god” on your site, but at least do something about his claim to have been the youngest published science fiction writer at 20 — I’m far from an expert in this field, but the much more impressively written Eragon was published when Paolini was only 19 (that is, unless you count his self-publishing it a year earlier).
[Jerry Wright] His story was marginally acceptable when we published it two years ago. If he were to send us another, we would judge it on its merits.
We live by free speech; we deny neither Mr. Eng’s nor our own. We publish what we think is acceptable. That does not include racism or any other form of intolerance; they have no place at Bewildering Stories. Mr. Eng has not sent us anything of that nature.
[Don Webb] If age 20 is a “record” for publishing a novel, we can say that it has been surpassed by one of our own authors, who published a novel in our pages at age 16 and still holds the record as our youngest contributor at age 14.
Our authors’ biographical sketches are posted as received; they are the authors’ own words, no one else’s. We cannot and will not check the bios for accuracy; an author can tell us anything. Almost all of the bios appear to be the honest truth; why wouldn’t they be? But nothing prevents anyone from sending us some outlandish fiction; it’s the authors’ responsibility to represent themselves, and they are free to do so as they wish.
Kenneth Eng is a racist, prejudiced piece of CRAP. You should be ashamed to have any mention of that racist scumbag on your website. What is “bewildering” is how you could pimp for such a loser. I am, of course, referring to his OpEd piece in this week’s Asian Times stating why he “hates black people.” Be assured I will never visit your crap site again you losers.
A pissed off San Francisco resident
[Jerry Wright] Have you ever visited our website before? I very much doubt it. We oppose the ideas in Mr. Eng’s article, too; but we believe in free speech, no matter how stupid. Do you?
And in what way are we “pimping”? You can still get Eng’s book from Amazon.com. Are they “pimping” for him? Perhaps more than we — if you insist on calling it that — because we don’t get any money...
[Don Webb] Bewildering Stories has been castigated not for what Mr. Eng has written in our pages but for what he is said to have written elsewhere. That is unfair: Bewildering Stories bears no responsibility and owes no apologies for what our authors do or say in their private or public lives.
The motive behind the criticism is understandable: any racism is offensive in itself, but it’s mostly bizarre; what would be the point? The point is human rights, which are affected by social status and political power. Fear is justified, because tyrants feed on power and find it all too easy to acquire. Thus, when logic is absent, motives must be questioned, and demagogues must answer for the worst. For example, do those who deny the Holocaust wish to repeat it? Do those who deride Blacks wish to return to the age of slavery?
However, the fear of one tyranny does not justify advocating another. Many of the messages we’ve received do not oppose Mr. Eng’s ideas so much as call for their suppression. To demand that we make Mr. Eng ex post facto a virtual “unperson” or desaparecido goes beyond censorship: it amounts to nothing less than book-burning. Many of Bewildering Stories’ readers and editors have relatives who fought in Europe and the Pacific against those who would have imposed that atrocity upon the world. We, in our turn, stand our ground against even mutually hostile intolerances; we see them as two sides of the same coin.
[Jerry Wright] There are a lot of magazines out there that really don’t care what they publish. We do. I try to screen submissions to fit our prescribed PG-13 mode. Don and I have rejected some otherwise acceptable works that we considered gratuitously offensive, and we've amended others where they implicitly assumed the readers would share a character’s prejudice.
However, we firmly agree with the statement attributed to Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He could and should have said it, even if he didn’t. We oppose and refuse to publish scurrilous and inane diatribes; we don’t and won’t call for banning them.
By what authority have the guardians of all that is “correct and true” decided that no one has the right to be offensive? Or at least has no right to offend “the sensitive among us” — whoever they may be? Freedom of speech was so important to the founding fathers of the United States that it was included among the first in the original “Bill of Rights.”
And while it is true that the majority of e-mail that we’ve received spews blind hatred and vitriol at both the aforementioned K.C. Eng and Bewildering Stories, there were a few mails that were gently remonstrative and well-reasoned. These I applaud.
Oppose what offends you; we expect no less. Be discriminating in what you see, think, and believe; that, too, is not only acceptable but intelligent. But never believe that just because it offends you it has no right to exist. That philosophy leads to the rack, the stake, and the Inquisition. And if that comes to others, it may come to you.
[Don Webb] We foresaw such troubles long ago. That’s why our Submissions guidelines state that an author’s work can be removed from our pages only at the request of the author himself; third parties have no standing.
We are not insensitive; we will listen to cases of personal offense. However, in practice the plaintiff must in effect prove personal libel, which we would never knowingly let pass in the first place. We do not allow the “heckler’s veto” or the “Red Queen’s verdict,” which amounts to: “I don’t like what that author wrote. Off with his head!”
Copyright © 2007 by Jerry Wright and Don Webb for Bewildering Stories