Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Clueless among the Creepy

Jeffrey Epstein was a collector. He collected, by which I mean sequestered, exploited, and sexually assaulted, a large number of teenage girls. He also collected, by which I mean feted and flattered and befriended, many prominent and well-educated men. These included numerous scientists, whose approval the intellectually-insecure Epstein craved. Social networks in the hard sciences often interconnected with those in Greater Geekdom, and JE’s male acquaintances included science fiction writers. One of these, Greg Bear, recently admitted that he had socialized a bit with Epstein, having attended a conference the rape-meister sponsored in 2011. He recalled realizing something was amiss shortly after meeting his host: the financier was surrounded by attractive young women who seemed personally or economically dependent on him, and who did not socialize with the other guests. Bear later made a comment about “Dracula coming down out of his castle to ravage the young woman of the village.” Epstein, who overheard the remark, did not invite him back.

Bear reports that an old friend who knew Epstein had reassured him, prior to his own departure for the Caribbean, that JE was a safe acquaintance despite his 2008 conviction as a sex offender: “The man who did the things the press reported is not the person I’ve experienced.” While the author does not identify his friend, I strongly suspect that it was Gregory Benford, the physicist and sci-fi writer. The two traveled in the same scientifictional circles, and Benford had received grant money from Epstein’s science foundation.* Both belong to the same social category as most Grand Old Men of Sci-Fi: white, male, and encased in bubbles of privilege and politesse that made hobnobbing with a billionaire vampire seem normal, and questioning the background and agency of his female entourage seem impolite.

Jeffrey Epstein and Marvin Minsky, ca. 2000.
Bear's invitation to the Virgin Islands conference came by way of Marvin Minsky, who died a few years later. Minsky was a pioneering computer scientist with a connection to the world of SF: he served as a consultant to the makers of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and earned a brief mention in Arthur C. Clarke's novelization. Minsky seems to have fallen into a very different moral category from Bear and Benford: in August 2019, one of the survivors of Epstein's trafficking alleged that Minsky sexually assaulted her in 2001. The charge remains unsubstantiated, but not incredible; at least, Virginia Giuffre has little to gain from a false rape charge against a dead professor. I suspect more than one of Minsky's admirers feels creeped-out right now. Possibly including HAL 9000.   

* A 2012 press release from the Epstein Foundation identifies Benford as a featured guest at one of JE's conferences, so the author almost certainly met his benefactor.


  1. If he'd been operating a few decades earlier, JE doubtless would've tried to draw Asimov into his orbit. Not that Dr. A needed much encouragement to commit what we'd now call sexual assault.

    God, everything about this is so creepy.

  2. I'm afraid so. I suspect Bear and Benford aren't the only science fiction writers Epstein drew into his orbit.

    IIRC, Asimov became so infamous a masher that he was semi-officially discouraged from attending SF cons in the 1970s and '80s (although I did see him in the hallway at Worldcon '89).