L Ron Hubbard Writing Contest

Writers of the FutureSo when AJ phoned me one morning to invite me to become a judge in the new “Writers of the Future” contest sponsored in L. Ron Hubbard’s name by the Scientologists, I didn’t let him tell me how nicely they would treat me and what a wonderful deal it would be for struggling writers. I just said no and declined to discuss it.

That’s where it stood for a few months, until AJ got back on the phone. He reminded me that when I turned him down, he had recruited Theodore Sturgeon to take my place as a judge, and then sorrowfully let me know that it wasn’t working out. Ted’s health had begun to fail. He was now hospitalized, at death’s door and with no hope of recovery — or of managing to read the dozen manuscripts that were sitting by his hospital bed, written by the first group of contestants, who had already been waiting far longer than was fair. So would I please, just this once —?

Algis BudrysHow could I refuse? I couldn’t. I didn’t. I told AJ to ship me the damn manuscripts. When they arrived I put everything else aside to read them — I was working as Bantam’s science-fiction editor in those years, plus writing my own books, and so without a lot of spare time on my hands. Then I read parts of the stories again. Then I emailed my votes to Author Services, which is the action wing of “Writers of the Future, ” and then I went back to my life, feeling pleased with myself for having given a friend a helping hand in an hour of need. And then — Well, then things changed.

When people ask me how I wound up as an almost 30-year veteran as a Woffie judge I usually give them the short version: “I signed on to do them a favor, and then I just forgot to quit.” But it is a little more complicated than that.

My basic feelings hadn’t changed, pro and con. Let me give you the major arguments, as the debate had gone on in my head: To begin with, there are some pretty unpleasant things that have been said about pernicious practices of Scientology, and I believe that at least some of them are true. On the other hand, they’re not the only religion that has done lousy things, and at least I’ve never heard it said that Scientologists have murdered anyone. (That’s more than I can say for most of the major religions I know of.)

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