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The Science Fiction Writers Of America Weigh In On The Advent Of The Electric Telegraph

Found in an article by one Howard Hendrix, Vice President of the SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers Of America:

I think the ongoing and increasing sublimation of the private space of consciousness into public netspace is profoundly pernicious. For that reason I don’t much like to blog, wiki, chat, post, LiveJournal, or lounge in A problem with the whole wikicliki, sick-o-fancy, jerque-du-cercle of a networking and connection-based order is that, if you “go along to get along” for too long, there’s a danger you’ll no longer remember how to go it alone when the ethics of the situation demand it.

I’m also opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they’re just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they’re undercutting those of us who aren’t giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.

Published in researchmaterial


  1. Maciej Maciej

    I think he fancies himself to be clever.

  2. In all honesty, I cannot number the books/series I buy due to reading a free novel found online.

    I own all of Cory Doctorow’s books, bought AFTER I read them as free downloads.

    I also pimp his and others work, due to reading them for free online or as a download.

    Mr. Hendrix is obviously fretting about his celluloid collar, buttonhook and buggywhip investments, as well as his career as a scientifiction scrivner.

  3. Matt Matt

    Webscabs, eh? Nice way to vilify the members of your organization who are trying something new, marketing-wise, to boost recognition and maybe even draw in new readers from outside the Sci-Fi ghetto.
    There’s irony thick on the ground here. How /dare/ new technology alter the way we noble visionaries of The Future have always done things!
    But I guess name-calling will have to suffice in place of examining technology and figuring out how to use it to its best advantage. So I too shall indulge and say “What an ass-clown.”

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever read an on-line book for enjoyment, just manuals and such for work. Maybe an article, an essay, a short story. But when it comes to longer reading SF&F, I want a real book and to be left alone for a few hours.

    I know of no information out there in the common consciousness suggesting that I am in the minority of SF readers in that preference.

    And anyway, what an idiotic thing to write.

  5. For myself, free books go on my Palm pilot, to be read in chunks while riding the subway or bus.

    I find it more convenient to stick the Palm in my pocket than a full sized book.

    To each his own.

  6. Idan Cohen Idan Cohen

    Someone throw a dictionary definition of “Science-fiction” at this horrible luddite, will you? But attach it to a brick first.

  7. His little screed inspired over 150 authors to release work online for free yesterday. So I am thankful to him, in the end.

  8. I certainly can respect his Luddite attitudes, because he is entitled to his opinion. But I was really taken aback by the “webscabs” comments. I’m not opposed to Unions and I understand the importance of the WGA (for example). But to suggest that a writer (and, by extension, any artist) can give away work for free because it spoils it for everyone else it is not only idiotic, but kinda scary.

    And, yeah, it is super amusing that these comments came from a science fiction writer.

  9. Andy Andy

    You whippersnappers and your horseless carriages! It’s no work of God that makes that thing move!

  10. Frito Frito

    I’ve never heard of Howie… I wonder why? I expect it must be because of the webscabs terrifying plot.

    How dare they steal SFWA’s readership with their new fangled technomagic and superior talent?

  11. He clearly has little or no concept of how much time and effort it takes to self promote effectively online. Or perhaps he knows only too well and his real argument is one against the idea that he may have to work harder to remain competitive. Personally when I find something of truly exceptional quality offered for free I tend to go out of my way to buy a hard copy because I understand that I have to pay for quality if I want to see more of it. I think that offering work for free is in some ways moralizing the economy of creative work; I feel less like a consumer and more like a patron when I choose to pay for it. I release all my work under a Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike license because I want people to take the work and make it their own (share alike because I want to go back and mine their derivations for new material) and because I don’t ever want to have to waste my time defending the past. I believe the next major movement in art will not be a development in style but rather in marketing and in how we choose to own our work.

  12. J. Kim J. Kim

    Dear Thomn:

    That last sentence of yours is truly, truly horrifying. We can only hope and pray that the next major movement in any given art form will not revolve around marketing.

  13. Oh, that’s just so sad.

    I’ve had occasion to meet Howard on a couple of occasions and he’s a nice, nice man, and quite smart.

    The quoted remarks are simply baffling to me; perhaps his ridiculous comments are a peculiar absurd joke?

    ::shakes head sadly::


  14. legion legion

    What a buffoon. Hendrix, in conflating individual SF authors with scabs, is basically describing all “legitimate” authors as totally-interchangeable unionized assembly-line workers. this bespeaks a complete failure to grasp, not just technology, but the entire concept of literary art.

    I’m willing to pay a certain amount of money to read a story by, say, Isaac Asimov. I’m willing to pay a different amount of money to read one of Warren’s rants. Being able to access one of those things for free has ABSOLUTELY NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER on the amount I’m willing to pay for the other. Idiot.

  15. Cal Coons Cal Coons

    Maybe what he was getting at is that the other things that come with being a part of an organized group — like a health plan, work conditions, better overall situations for the group — can fall by the wayside if writers become isolated and let the whole fall by the wayside. Group benefits for professional writers are hard fought for and take collective energies to attain. Just a thought.

  16. Wow, what a pompous ass. Yet he can’t see the importance and thinking behind guys like Cory Doctorow or J. C. Hutchins who are trying to get their stuff out and have tons of fans that support them.

  17. You guys just don’t get it! It’s important to kick the little guy while he’s down, or he’ll get up and do all sorts of unacceptable things, like stop depending on big corporations to make his art available to the public.


    // wikiclickis “molotov cocktail recipe”

  18. Dear J.Kim

    Ahh semantics, the enemy of understanding.
    I don’t feel that there is anything wrong with marketing in and of itself, I used to own and work on an Amiga back when they were the best machines under $3000 for doing graphics. They were an excellent product that went tits up because commodore had no clue how to market them. Still, yes, in the popular usage marketing is a filthy lie spewing whore with all the moral integrity of….well I can’t think of much that’s worse in terms of morals but anyway. What I mean is that a lot of Artists are very disillusioned with the folks who pimp their work and with the standard copyright model. I didn’t mean to imply that marketing would be the style and content but rather that the way people choose to promote their work and the type of ownership structures they utilize are going to have a greater impact than the work itself.

  19. you know i do kind of dig it actually.

    the wikification of information hides the many-truthed reality that we once relied on experts and banks of personal knowledge to help us pluck through and decypher. we’ve told ourselves that we can just objectify and host the information bank online and that everyone needs access to knowledge, but what are we doing to our knowledge to fit it in such an accessible on demand space? the guy obviously is a bit oldschool with a bone to pick, but we need to be careful and cognizant of whats getting lost in these digitization processes.

    all i’m saying is, its very rare to find very good very detailed in depth web pages on specific subjects. is a site dedicated to listing every song Joy Division ever played in concert or released. you just dont see dedicated sites like that anymore. we’re running together, and no one is running it alone.

  20. Will Will

    Maybe he would feel better if all of the “webscabs” made several hundred thousand copies of a given work and mailed them to random addresses with the instruction to “pass them along”? Maybe with a construction paper point-and-click interface just to make it more analogous?

  21. Moral Code Zero…

    And now, we return (momentarily) to Earth, where Warren Ellis has found a particularly inane screed from the Science Fiction Writers of America’s current vice-president. Quoting just a little bit:
    I’m also opposed to the increasing presence in…

  22. Nickel Nickel

    A scifi author that holds the future in contempt should be more interesting then that. He projects an image of an old man yelling about those darn kids skateboarding on the sidewalks. Plus he seems to view his chosen profession as being like that of an assembly worker and not an artist or creator. He just comes off as kind of an ass.

  23. gregmag gregmag

    I don’t have a problem with the critical slant on the digitization of information and the way that online interactions change the individual and collective consciousness. Those developments have huge implications, not all of them good. I also have no problem with the focus on writing as a profession and a source of sustenance. Only an airy romantic could ignore the practical realities of writers’ lives. What does bother me is the ignorance and arrogance of the “Webscabs” accusation. To call out a whole range of people indiscriminately, without remotely thinking through the economic nuances of the practice you’re slamming on economic grounds, pretty well discredits whatever else you have to say.

  24. Benjamin Dubroca Benjamin Dubroca

    Sounds like someone isn’t a very popular writer. I would mail him some tissue if he would admit that anyone’s art can be distributed in anyway they choose.

    What more can you ask of them? They work on art that they have no intention of receiving anything back about except for readership. How selfish, I must say, of these writers that work for free.

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