More and more details are emerging from the deeply sad and disgusting history of Marion Zimmer Bradley and (her husband) Walter Breen's abuse of children. By and large, these are not new facts. This is history: personal, legal, and fandom history. I am not going to link to the proof. Suffice to say, legal depositions and plenty of damning accounts are available online, many using the keyword "Breendoggle."
I would really like fandom to stop using that word. Modifying "boondoggle" in this way suggests that the arguments about what to do about MZB and Breen were useless wastes of time and energy. It minimizes the horror of how fandom failed to excise a pernicious predator, how people colluded to protect perpetrators rather than victims, how survivors were shamed, gaslit, and silenced, and how the truth was allowed to sink out of sight and out of mind.
There's been a critical generation gap. Fans who knew of MZB and Breen's crimes seem to have assumed the information was common knowledge. They stopped discussing it. They let sleeping dogs lie. Which means a swath of current fans and writers (including myself until about a month ago) were completely ignorant of what MZB and her husband had done, what Breen was convicted of. No doubt it would be unpleasant and even painful to constantly footnote every mention of MZB's writing with "and she abused her children and enabled her husband to rape children." But there must be other ways to pass this information on to future fans. I mean, many of us are writers. Communication is one facet of our jobs.
The MZB/Breen situation feels disturbingly familiar to those of us now fighting for harassment policies and their enforcement. We have our own "missing stairs" or "open secrets." We know we have serial harassers attending SF conventions, and we warn our friends about those problem attendees. But not everyone is going to hear these warnings through the grapevine, just as many of us were left in the dark about MZB/Breen. And it's not as if we don't have sufficient evidence or proof of the problem. Instead, we have con committees that are fearful of litigation.
"...while we could of course cancel [their] membership, if we did so without telling fandom why, there would be a big row. And if we told why, [they] would sue for slander and libel and we didn't have $75,000.00.
It was pointed out that truth is a defense in a case like this. So it is, but [they] would probably sue anyway. And even though we have all sorts of evidence establishing the main facts, if not each individual instance, we'd still be out several hundred dollars in lawyer's fees even after we'd won the case."
That's from a 1963 newsletter about Walter Breen. In response to my "WisCon Wins and Fails" post, I heard almost the exact same reasoning from a WisCon volunteer co-coordinator. Fifty-some years later, and we are still (supposedly) immobilized by the fear that a serial predator will sue.
How many times have jackasses threatened to sue but never followed through?
If the NBA can ban an owner for life because of racist statements, why can't a con ban a known harasser?
The SFF community contributed over $53,000 to the "Women Destroy
Science Fiction All Genres!" Kickstarter. Do you really think, if a con volunteer got sued for enforcing the harassment policy, we'd let them go broke?
We need to fix our missing stairs now. I can't bear the thought of, twenty years from now, younger writers and fans "discovering" their literary heroes are moral scumbags. Or that the same creepers bothering them at cons were known to be problems even back in my day. We in the SFF community pride ourselves on envisioning grand, complex futures. We need to develop longer memories. Otherwise, our future will be a shameful repetition of the past. The MZB/Breen history reemerging now is a timely, if painful warning.