*So in March? April? Cathy young interviewed me about the Hugos, and I gave her my trademark long answers. Her article is up now, but she’d graciously agreed to letting me post my original answers when it came out, so here it is (not a verification thing, she’s okay, even if she is a journalist.;) I thought you might want to see it, is all.*
(4) Do you think Sad Puppies is also a backlash (and I don’t mean that in a negative sense) against the dominance of “social justice” activists in blog and social media discussions in the science fiction fandom, and the resulting intellectual climate?
I don’t think it’s so much a backlash as a great freeing from shackles. As I documented in my blog posts starting with “He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher” there was a great climate of fear in publishing. This is because the publishers had all the power, the writers’ none. I’ve seen friends fired for no reason any sane person could divine, and it was often a whispering campaign or being seen with the wrong person.
Social Justice infected that structure because the structure was rotten and ready for whisper campaigns and top-down dominance by a handful of people who held the reins not just of whether you’d be published, but whether you’d make it to the shelves or not. I.e. whether your career would be able to continue or flourish.
If you look at (particularly the women) the names allowed to flourish, they all proclaim themselves not just as people of the left, but people who take some pretty extremist positions on the left. Take K. Tempest Bradford who made a vow to read no white males for a year. Imagine that someone said “I will not read females of color for a year”. The backlash would be howlingly insane. But what she said? It was met with laudatory comments about reading “the other”.
The problem is that in this climate, you’re not reading the other. You’re reading people of various external characteristics or orientations, who all write from the same soft (or hard) left perspective.
I for one believe you should judge a book and whether it challenges you or not from the pov of what’s in the author’s mind not between his/her legs.
The problem I have with social justice is not that it’s insurgent, but that it’s reactionary and boring. I was taught this stuff in school and I’m over 50 years old. Granted, Portugal was a little “advanced” in that respect, but all the same.
So, the climate has been stifling because we all depended on this small number of like-thinking people in NYC. Now with the possibility of going indie (and I have friends published only indie making six figures) that restriction is gone. What you’re seeing is not a backlash, it’s the Berlin wall coming down.
I’ve before used the image of Lloyd Biggle Jr.’s great novel The Still Small Voice of Trumpets. In it artists formerly revered get banished and mutilated at the capricious command of a cruel king. In the end the hero finds a way to bring them back. The hero is not named Bezos. Strangely.
(5) Is there any merit to feminist critiques of how sci-fi/fantasy has traditionally portrayed women? Any thoughts on Kameron Hurley’s Hugo-winning “We Have Always Fought” essay?
Will I be penalized if I roll my eyes? There is this strange tendency among the Social Justice Warriors to behave as though they were fighting a “straw science fiction” that never existed. The truth is that, given the restrictions on women’s lives before being freed from some of our biological constraints by contraceptives, science fiction was one of the more accepting/enlightened fields ever for a woman to work in.
Consider the Hugo Award was instituted in 53, and that Marion Zimmer Bradley, with a distinctly female name was nominated in 63, (a year after I was born, btw.) You can say she didn’t win, but she was up against strong competition, i.e. The Man In The High Castle.
And 64 saw Andre Norton nominated, while in 1970 Ursula K. LeGuinn won.
But isn’t this proof of discrimination, you’ll say. Note all the years with no female nominee. The fact is that the field at its inception was incredibly… well, geeky. In the same way that engineering classes start over half female and end with a handful of geeks, very upset there aren’t any more girls (my younger son is going through this) the field started as a geek-mathematician-engineer fest. My husband loves Flatland, and apparently so did Heinlein. To me it’s a story without characters, a sort of Mathematical Wank.
I’m not saying some women aren’t capable of/interested in “mathematical wank.” My friend Kate Paulk is.
The fact is it took women who were interested to draw other women in, by degrees, kind of like fish learning to work on land. For a while there the emphasis was on “Science” fiction, which meant that you had a lot of socially gauche geeks, which means you had to have very strange women to first penetrate those circles. (Is a strange woman, but not that strange.)
By 1970 you had maybe one third of the writers as female.
This, btw, doesn’t mean women weren’t properly depicted in science fiction. Take in account that very few people but geek males were the heroes up through the fifties, and the women are actually amazingly depicted. There are female lensmen. More importantly, even when depicted as love interest or wife, the women are often the strongest character. I was reminded of this when reading again Way Station by Clifford Simak. One of the women is a deaf mute mountain girl, but she is the redeemer the universe has been waiting for. The other woman is literally a Pygmalion creation, a dream made real, and yet she is the one who sees clearly enough to end the unequal relationship with the hero, which he lacks the strength to break.
The much maligned Robert A. Heinlein had women spaceship captains, women engineers, women heroes.
If I have a complaint about golden age women it is that they tend to be glorified by golden age men. This is partly the geek effect. Most geeks I know adore women, and adore them even more if they take an interest in their pursuits. I recently – at fifty two, overweight, graying – found myself the hot babe at a space symposium because I have exactly the same interests as those men and am willing to work on the math at which I’m wretchedly bad. (Or good. I get theoretical math very easily, I’m just digit dyslexic and transpose digits in calculation, which is maddening.)
By the time I came into the field in the late nineties, most of the new writers’ were women. This is partly economic, because writing no longer pays enough for the primary income earner something that like it or hate it our society tends to assign to men.
I expect that will change as people can make a living from indie, but since the awards lag the actual achievement – i.e. people who are at the top of their game not beginners tend to get the awards – I’d expect a plethora of women winners for the next few years.
Kameron Hurley’s essay. I went and read it when you asked this question.
The essay is rather baffling. It’s sort of the same “fighting a past that never existed” combined with a strange belief in “narrative” which means the author must have imbibed a good deal of post-modernism.
She compares women being depicted in stories in relation to men to llamas being depicted as carnivorous. This is a bit insane, as llamas have never been carnivorous cannibals, but women have moved in relation to men (and men in relation to women) for millennia or, that is, forever. It is what we call “being the same species” and “obeying reproductive imperatives.”
She also seems to believe we should depict people as thousands of genders, which is when my head hit the keyboard (this is bad. I have a Y imprinted on my forehead, now.)
I view this type of thinking as a sort of cognitive disorder, that demands that every little widget be in a little can with the label perfectly matching the contents.
At the proliferation of “other” genders and sexual orientations, I made a mildly annoyed comment on facebook, (I think referring to “Searching” – as an orientation for adults.) I was told I was lucky I’d always known my “gender.” As it happens it made me cackle, because I’m one of those women who used to be called tomboys and of course underwent the usual doubts in adolescence. (Except for the fact Mr. Hormone came calling and I really like boys.) A lot of people still tend to identify me as lesbian, in interaction. However this doesn’t make me “Searching” or even “bi.” I am female and I like men. The end. Gender allows for infinite statistical variation within it, and each individual has a distressing tendency to be individual, a concept Hurley doesn’t seem to be able to fully comprehend. She wants a label, by gum. Many, many labels, so each individual can be a group, even if the group has one member.
In the same way her call for writing women completely divorced from men, and then this will happen baffles me, as I can not decide whether she’s calling for species extinction, or whether she thinks she can with story alone rewrite millions of years of evolutionary history.
It’s the sort of pseudo-feminist, pseudo-intellectual games that college professors adore, but which will never make any sense for real people in the real world.
As for women fighting: what kind of impoverished lore and history did she learn that she thinks she’s making a profound statement? From Judith in the Old Testament, through Bodicca, through the various warrior queens, including but not limited to Matilda and Elizabeth I, I fail to see the shocking part of this. History tends to mention only noble women fighting, but if you study a little closer, you find that women followed their husband’s to war and yes, had some role in the fighting even if it was capturing escaped enemy; women defended citadels while their men marched off, sometimes with notable valor. And women often became heroes though not often through the means of going off to battle. (Some, sure, but our upper body strength is a limiting factor for most. Genetics are what they are.) For instance one of my personal heroines, learned in grade school in Portugal was the Baker of Aljubarrota. I’m too lazy to google the official details (probably available, since she was a national heroine) but while her town was under siege by the Spaniards, (I think) she took the little remaining flour and kept bread baking continuously, while the wind blew the smell of warm bread to the enemy camp. Then she set up behind the bakery door in the outer wall, and as each enemy came in she killed him with the oven-shovel. Her assistants whisked the corpse out of sight, rinse and repeat. She is credited with killing hundreds of men and ending the siege.
Now, did the fact that she fought invalidate the fact that she was some man’s daughter and possibly even some man’s sister, some man’s wife and some man’s mother? Why should it? Why should women be one-dimensional?
The whole construction of the essay is puerile.
(6) Is “politically correct” dominance in SF/fantasy really as bad as you suggest? In a recent blogpost, you mentioned a time in the 1990s when every single novel on the fantasy shelf at B & N was in the “young female magic user with abusive father figure” mold. I have to say I found that rather surprising — what about Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, Sword of Truth? IIRC, those were the big fantasy hits of the ’90s and none of them fit that pattern. Also, is “peaceful matriarchal utopia” fiction all that common? I know about Sheri Tepper’s books and the Holdfast Chronicles, but it hardly seems a huge wave.
Okay, on the first one – I didn’t even view it as a politically correct thing, though let’s not forget the nineties was the time when a lot of the stores changed the History section to “Herstory.”
I am at a loss as to why people expect me to remember books I didn’t buy twenty years ago. However, some of the books I did buy with that pattern and enjoy despite that pattern were Mercedes Lackey’s fantasies that I want to say had bird names as titles. (I could be wrong. I haven’t re-read them in a long time, and everything is packed. See also how I’m still on pain pills. Much better, but they leave weird holes in my mind.) A lot of the McCaffrey’s also had the same pattern, though hers were science fiction (even if with a fantasy mouth-feel. Oh, and there was a reason for overbearing patriarchy in her roughly medieval world.) I want to say there was also a successful one by Elizabeth Moon, but I hesitate because I don’t remember clearly when books came out.
The point of that anecdote in the post, though, wasn’t what was being written or sold at the time. It was more what was available to me at the time, as the anecdote involved my walking away from the field for a time.
If this was in the mid-to late 90s, i.e. just before I gave up on Barnes and Noble and sf/f altogether, it is important to note that Barnes and Noble was stocking according to the decisions of the tri-state manager. This meant someone in Kansas decided what books I could find in Colorado Springs. These were usually (though at that time not always) the books pushed by the publisher because the tri-state manager was a business man not a reader. (And it was the beginning of what we see now happening to the chains. They could undermine mom and pop’s due to deep discounts on books, but their lack of variety eventually ate them alive.)
By that time my local Barnes and Noble had three shelves devoted to sf/f and the vast majority of these was taken up with media tie-ins, which I don’t read because being abnormal I don’t watch TV/movies. Half of the remaining one third, in those days when reprints still happened were either novels I wouldn’t read (See where my tastes aren’t normal. I MIGHT have read The Wheel of Time if I got desperate enough, but if the audience were all like me it wouldn’t have been a bestseller. I simply could never get into heroic fantasy. I’ll read it if nothing else is available, but I also read the back of shampoo bottles) novels I had read such as, if I’m not misremembering, Lackey, MacCaffrey and the excellent Wizard series by Simon Hawke. I was looking at novels I hadn’t read, which might have been 12 or so that had been stocked in that store. And they were all Lackey/MacCaffrey pale immitations.
This is not so much a “politically correct” thing, except in the sense that a certain group-think that all men were oppressive seemed to have set in among middle aged boomer women. At the time it got me raw because I bore easily. If one of them had had an abusive mother for a change, I’d probably have bought it.
How much of this was the restriction of NY publisher group think, I don’t know. I will note that when I first started writing I had a science fiction novel with a seriously broken, borderline psychopathic male hero. I could never sell it. I heard he was “hateful” and “evil.” HOWEVER when I wrote the main character of Darkship Thieves as a female with basically the same personality, not only didn’t I have issues selling it (granted to Baen) but until I came out of the political closet no reviewer had those problems with the character. This is personal experience, and of course it fits my own internal narrative, but it’s hard to avoid the suspicion the reason there were no evil mothers/sisters is because it shocked the sensibilities of the NY establishment and their attempt to establish a “narrative” of women as always good.
Speaking of which, in terms of peaceful female planets, you forgot Suzy McKee Charnas and Suzette Haden Algin. Heck, the trend is so relevant it has a wickipedia page, here:
It is also in TV tropes.
Enlightened Matriarchy – A more benevolent or enlightened rule than patriarchy. A form of non-sexual Author Appeal for certain feminist writers, especially second-wave feminists in the 1970s. On its way to being a Dead Horse Trope, at least for the more extreme versions, as well.
And it is often the background (together with an imagined pre-historic matriarchy for which there is no evidence and plenty of contrary evidence) for books that aren’t about “women planets” such as the work of Anne Rice.
Frankly being asked to provide examples of both of these – and I’ve had comments demanding this on my blog out of the blue – was one of those indications that a strange twitter storm was going on where the other side had decided to treat my anecdotes about my experience of the field as social history and were demanding footnotes. It was also bizarre, as neither of these trends is secret (no, not even the one of abused-by-father magic users.) It was like being asked to prove that elephant bells were once a thing. Didn’t people wear miniskirts, instead?
And in case this libertarian writer needs to say so, I don’t want to silence either of these trends. It’s the fact that the opposite doesn’t exist, that there is no peaceful and beautiful planet of the men (well, maybe Ethan of Athos – tongue planted in cheek, though Bujold did not make it a hell hole, which is innovative) that is telling of political correctness in the field.
After all, men as well as women can be peaceful or war like. Or, to quote Kameron Hurley, “We have always fought.”
Now is this the writers, or the gatekeepers? I’d guess the gatekeepers, of which reviewers and awards are part.
(7) Getting back to Sad Puppies: I hate to bring up the Vox Day issue, and I know that he’s not part of Sad Puppies per se, but he is perceived as a SP ally (and he’s the publisher of some of the SP authors). Do you think having a perceived connection to Vox lends ammunition to those who want to depict Sad Puppies as a backlash against women, gays, and racial diversity in sci-fi? I’ve seen some of your posts on the subject and I know you’re strongly opposed to the idea that people should be “disavowed” for having the wrong political opinions. Are there any opinions that should be legitimately considered beyond the pale? (Not to Godwin this question, but pro-Nazi sentiment would be one obvious example; or, for instance, approval of slavery.)
This is somewhat of a mis-reading of my position. I have no problems at all with people being disavowed for having stupid opinions. I have problems with their being kicked out of a professional association for having unpalatable opinions.
In other words, the organization’s goal is not to assure “correct thinking in science fiction” but to work with publishers on improving the writers’ lot. I know for a fact we had members who were jailed for murder, something much worse than thought crime. They weren’t forbidden from joining/kicked out for this crime, nor should they be.
If members of the organization had merely told Vox he was bad, evil and they were telling everyone he was a poopy head, that would be entirely in keeping. And if in pursuance of its function of improving the lot of SF writers, the organization had put out a memo saying “We strongly disagree with Vox’s stated opinions on—” Meh. I wouldn’t care. He is a grown man and says what he thinks, and he knows there will be consequences. Mind you, I’d like to see them say the same about misandrist speech, but that’s not within the abilities of the “elite” in our field at the moment.
Opinions beyond the pale? Absolutely. I consider a lot of them beyond the pale, and so do any number of people.
Forbidden, though? No.
Look, free speech needs no protection when it’s about loving puppies and butterflies. In the same way, say speech “empowering” women and slagging men doesn’t need protection in SF/F. It brings rewards in terms of the person being applauded for courage. I suspect in Imperial Rome speech talking about the awesome power of the Emperor didn’t need protection, either. It’s when you actually do speak truth (or lies, but dissidence, at any rate) to power that you need to be protected. A Roman saying the emperor was just a man who had bunions and bad skin would need protection (which he didn’t have, since free speech was not part of the Roman culture.)
For an example, I find it absolutely appalling there is (or was a few years ago) a group of writers known as “the young communists club” (all about ten years younger than I, but never mind.) Why would you knowingly proclaim allegiance to a system of belief that has caused 100 million deaths around the world? It appalled me more that this affiliation was lauded on various reviews.
Should it be forbidden? Oh, heck no. It’s appalling, as is Nazism or promoting slavery. However, if you forbid that speech, what will you forbid next? And also, isn’t it better for horrible speech to be out in the open where it can be refuted?
I’d argue that America where Mein Kampf isn’t illegal has fewer problems with Neo-Nazis than European countries where it is. (This is just a feeling, from talking to friends. I can’t provide statistics.)
More importantly when I was twelve and ranting about how this or that should be forbidden, my brother who is ten years older asked me “And who decides?” That was when I realized authorities that could forbid things were ALSO only human and therefore could decide things I didn’t agree with. I still haven’t solved this conundrum and therefore will stay on the side of having things – speech included – as free as possible.
On association with Vox: that is an association carefully implied and cultivated by the anti-sad puppy side in the Hugos. After all Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian and the New Republic, not to mention the repulsive Daily Kos all pounded that little drum.
Look, it’s predictable. After all, they can’t in any other way substantiate their racist/sexist/homophobic slurs. Larry Correia is technically and certainly culturally of Portuguese descent. Brad is in an interracial marriage, and even idiots have to laugh at the idea he chose to do this and having a mixed race daughter to disguise his deep racism. I often have gay protagonists (no idea why) and consequently about as many gay fans as Mercedes Lackey, a lot of whom write to me and become at least distance-friends. Half of our slate was female. Some of them were other races/orientations. They weren’t picked because of this, it just happened.
But the end result is that the only way they can justify their unhinged attacks is to tie us to Vox. Now, did Vox help with this by commissioning a similar logo to the Sad Puppies one? No. Did he help with this by copying part of our slate (not hard to do since Brad assembled it in public)? No.
I will even admit there was a sort of rapprochement, not this year but last year, in which he was nice to us because we defended him against SFWA (at least in his understanding.) He asked for review copies of my indie book, for ex, and gave it to followers of his to review. (I have no idea how that shook out, as by the time the reviews were done, I’d taken a look at his blog and decided this was something I didn’t want to be associated with.)
I have no idea if his positions are shock-jockey efforts or his real beliefs. I don’t want to know.
I don’t know what he means to do with the Hugos. I don’t want to know.
We have no more way of controlling him than the other side does. Arguably they unleashed him by kicking him out of SFWA.
My answer to cries of “if you don’t want to be tied to him, stop Vox” is “not my circus, not my monkeys.” I refuse to respond to “let’s you and him fight.” My answer to Vox and anti-Vox is “A plague on both your houses.”
Meanwhile the sane ones among us (well, sane for science fiction) will continue trying to save the Hugos and the image of written SF/F in the world at large.
Right now, for me at least, that passes to getting as many fans to get supporting memberships as possible, so that a wider opinion prevails.
And I’m looking forward to the Hugo nominee packets that will include Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher and Liu Cixin. I’m getting better, and expect to put the health problems of the last few years behind me. I’m already concentrating better and longer, and have undertaken reading some half-forgotten classics, but will move to new stuff soon, and these books will be a great treat. I expect to be quite delightfully stumped as for who should get my vote.