Bigotry Leads to a Cool New Story Site

In other SFF news, some time ago William Sanders, editor of the SFF webzine Helix, wrote a rejection letter in which he ranted about “sheet heads”. People rightly pointed out that Sanders was being a racist dick, and he responded with grace and class: when Yoon Ha Lee asked him to remove her story from the Helix archives, he did so, telling Yoon that her story didn’t make sense anyway, he’d only bought it to fill some quota in his head, and the story’s grapes were probably sour anyway. (Here’s the full text of his response) He also pulled other authors’ stories at their request, replacing them with a page that said “STORY DELETED AT AUTHOR’S PANTIWADULOUS REQUEST”. Oh, and then he explained that further story removals would cost the author $40, before finally fully rescinding that offer.

Fortunately, sometimes good things come out of bad events. A group of writers published by Helix created Transcriptase, which now hosts those stories pulled from Helix. So why not spend your lunch break reading some good short fiction?

5 thoughts on “Bigotry Leads to a Cool New Story Site

  1. Apparently whatever Dave Sim caught is communicable. Unless this guy was just always insane, which I guess is a distinct possibility, now that I think about it.

    [This comment applies to both this post and the last one.]

  2. Yeah, it’s interesting — albeit in a horrifying way — how there’s this strain of older science fiction and fantasy authors/editors who are batshit insane, and who generate unpleasant feelings in their wake.

  3. Might I point out that violent extremist Islam is not a race? I’m probably not the only one whose first thought when reading “sheet heads” was klansmen rather than terrorists, and what if it had been? Substitute one group of bigoted fanatics with distinctive headgear for another. Note that this is not about Islam in general, as the editor’s feelings on that are unclear. He states in the rejection letter than he lived in the Middle East and is very familiar with the Koran. The story he’s rejecting is about a man becoming a terrorist, and his comments are in that context. All races are deserving of respect, but systems of belief can certainly be wrong, and not at all worthy of any automatic extension of respect. It may be appopriate to dissemble these judgements for the sake of pleasantry, or at least avoid unnecessary use of epithets like “sheet head”, but that’s a matter of etiquette rather than of moral fiber. The editor has certainly behaved immaturely, but the outrage at the rejection letter has been reflexive and unreasoned.

  4. The problem is, “sheet heads” isn’t an epithet used only for Islamic terrorists, and claiming that it is given its history is like talking about “niggers” and later claiming that you’re just talking about black terrorists. Furthermore, Sanders’s claim after the fact that he was talking about terrorists in specific just doesn’t wash. Let’s pull out the relevant sections of his own rejection letter:

    “I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Q’uran and Islamic traditions. (Having spent a couple of years in the Middle East, I know something about these things.) You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people – at the end we still don’t really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can – and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.”

    “And I don’t think you’re going to sell it to any other genre magazine, for that reason – though you’d have a hard time anyway; most of the SF magazines are very leery of publishing anything that might offend the sheet heads.”

    In the first paragraph above, is Sanders talking about terrorists or is he talking about Muslims in general? Who, exactly, are “those people”?

    If, as Nick Mamatas pointed out, you swap “terrorists” for “those people”, the whole thing doesn’t work. Now you’ve got Sanders claiming familiarity with terrorists, not Islam and Muslims in general, and his claim that “no one from the civilized world” can understand it crumbles when you realize that there are plenty of home-grown terrorists from the civilized world. Is Timothy McVeigh, former member of the US Army, now not from the civilized world? Or is the US not actually part of the civilized world?

    Even worse, he says that SF magazines don’t want to publish stories that might offend sheet heads. If he’s talking about terrorists, does he really think Stanley Schmidt, Sheila Williams, and Gordon Van Gelder are really worried about offending terrorists? Is the terrorist readership of Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s so large that they won’t dare offend them? Or is he really talking about Muslims by using an epithet that, far from being a question of etiquette, is hateful?

    So you certainly might point out that violent extremist Islam is not a race, but it has no bearing on what Sanders wrote.

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