Neil Clarke

The Award-Winning Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, Forever Magazine, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, and More

We can’t be a stranger to controversy

Last night, I received an email from a reader that included a quote and a link:

"Dr. Clarke is having apoplexy right now regarding that comp,tee piece of garbage published by a magazine that bears his name and ostensibly bears his legacy. " —Absolute Write forums (8/13/2010) on "Spar" by Kij Johnson from the October 2009 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine.
 

Clarkesworld Magazine has never made any claims to having a connection with Arthur C. Clarke. In fact, it bears the name of a bookstore I started over ten years ago (now closed) and that name came from the family domain I owned at the time. I know. Totally unimaginative. 🙂

Anyhow, "Spar" is a story we’re quite proud to have published. When we received this story from Kij, we knew it would trigger some passionate responses. The folks at Absolute Write haven’t said anything we haven’t before. In fact, it’s pretty tame. When "Spar" won the Nebula, one author said that Clarkesworld was killing the genre by publishing crap like this (despite that, he still submits stories to us) and a couple of people decided to make personal attacks (deleted, as per our policy) on Kij in the comments area for that story. Poke around the internet and you’ll find some very hateful comments about "Spar" that will cause these to pale in comparison.

On the flip side, "Spar":
– won the Nebula Award
– is a current Hugo nominee
– placed 2nd in the Locus Poll
– was a finalist for the Sturgeon Award (Kij withdrew it, she’s a judge)
– included in Strahan’s Year’s Best
– has received countless positive reviews and praise

If you want to kill the genre, you don’t do it by publishing controversial stories. In fact, you’ll know we’re all in trouble when no one is publishing them. Love or hate them, we need to celebrate these stories.

So, what are some of your favorite controversial stories?

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21 Comments

  1. I rather liked The Stolen Word by Lisa Mantchev. A lot of people were offended by it, but I thought that the spirit of it was about individualism, defying gender roles, societal roles and even the role of “outcast” that are laid out for us.

    More power to you for publishing controversial stories. I whole-heartedly believe fiction and especially speculative fiction is supposed to present ideas, worlds and mindsets that perhaps don’t push boundaries, but question why they are there. Such as the hubub that still arises in discussions of Lolita. While no topic is for everyone some things need to be discussed and where else but fiction?

  2. I saw that post. I was too flabbergasted to reply. (Other than “WTF???”)

    fwiw, I love Clarkesworld, and I think “Spar” is a damned good story.

  3. I loved “Spar.” 🙂

  4. Of course, there’s almost no story published you won’t find SOME hate for.

    My favorite controversial story is probably Starship Troopers, which still to this day is excellent for igniting flamewars almost anywhere I go. If that doesn’t work, I can always go for “Atlas Shrugged” and really start the fire burning.

    • Yep. I understand some hate/dislike, but there are a few people who I’ve noticed appear on several site just to slam the story and proclaim the world is ending. There is humor and sadness in that.

  5. Anonymous

    “Spar” is probably my favorite Clarkesworld story, and Kij certainly deserves every award that it has received. Kudos to the you for sharing it.

  6. I can’t think of any stories I’ve liked that had a major anti reaction. That’s probably because I’m generally disinterested in stories with graphic sex or violence as the main focus. People don’t usually care enough to start a controversy about other themes.

    One of my favourite Clarkesworld stories was “All the King’s Monsters” by Megan Arkenberg. I didn’t see any major bad reactions to it.

    In the milder “how did this win an award?!” controversy category, I liked Boneshaker. I’ve seen various people grumbling about that winning/not being very good/etc. More so than other novel winners.

    • I didn’t intend to limit controversial to just sex and violence. For example, I consider “Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky” by Ken Scholes a controversial story. We expected some flack for publishing a story that featured Hitler as a good guy and I know it was rejected on those grounds by other publishers. This month’s story by Julia M Sidorova (“Messenger“) takes the story of Christ in a rather different direction. That could be considered controversial too.

  7. The power of recognition

    Were I of just a little bit more of an egoist, I’d say you are in good company: if the username, FOTSGreg, is anything to go by (and judging by the quality of his commentary here, it is), I’m fairly certain it is by the same person who called me “a no-talent, ‘liberal-minded, cosmopolitan, self-conscious atheist'” because I posted a (partially) negative review of serial published in Analog a few years back. (He also compared me to Seymour Hersh, as if that was a bad thing.)

    I hope you’re getting some negative feedback from other, more credible critics as well as the likes of this fellow.

    Meanwhile, I suppose my favourite controversial SF story was and is Delany’s Dhalgren. I picked it up as a kid expecting some kind of big fat adventure story and instead got … my 12 year-old mind thoroughly blown. I won’t pretend I understood it then (or now), but I loved it and was quite disappointed when I learned sometime later that my views weren’t universally shared.

    • Re: The power of recognition

      Wow, that’s quite a mouthful. All that for a partially negative review? I’m impressed.

      No shortage of negative reviews on this story, but it is amusing how some of the same names keep popping up. It’s like a personal crusade to smear the story. Ah well, comes with the territory.

      Dhalgren at 12? Yeah, that would certainly be a kick to the head. (in a good way)

  8. Huh. I enjoyed “Spar” and thought it was pretty powerful. Some pretty important questions regarding sentience and communication made it good scifi. Anyway, I clicked through the link and it reads like sour grapes. *shrug*

    • Yes, there were definitely some sour grapes in that thread. As I said in the post, this wasn’t the worst discussion I’ve seen on the matter. I won’t bother linking to those people. 🙂

  9. Bloody bull pucky – some people! When I read ‘Spar’ I thought it was the best Si-fi story I had read in 10 years.
    GO CLARKESWORLD!!!!

  10. Anonymous

    Controversial stories is the best way to get publicity. The more people talk, the more powerful Clarkesworld becomes. Keep them coming, Neil.

    • I think it helps that the story was first and foremost a good story. The controversial nature caused it to be memorable. “Spar” is one of our most widely read stories, but it didn’t really earn that top spot until the Nebula nomination.

      “The Things” by Peter Watts currently holds our top spot and it wasn’t controversial at all.

  11. Challenging literature is something we should aspire to create, not bash and fear.

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