Weirdly, this is not a post about national politics. Yeah, I know, I’m deceptive that way. It’s on account of being one of them unreliable science fiction authors. We won’t go into all the other kinds of unreliable I am, either. That is likely to come out during this post and most assuredly you shall have to deal.
First of all the links on this post are going to be nonexistent, except for the original one, though I don’t object if people supply them in the comments. I’m not linking them because just revisiting those sites will have me reaching for the blood pressure medicine I don’t got.
For those who are not of my people or who are and have been living under a rock – I was, until someone enlisted me by rubbing my lamp three times. The rock is called novel writing. It’s what I happen to do for a living. It puts groceries on the table – there is a civil war going on in science fiction.
It started when one of the icons of the field, Orson Scott Card wrote something FOR HIS CHURCH MAGAZINE saying that you couldn’t be a practicing homosexual and a member of the church. That’s where he started. I don’t know what he said since, when provoked – I had occasion to witness on this very blog rational people who have more in agreement than not going after each other with rapiers once the “your mama too” started, so I think what people say once an argument starts should not be held against them. (If it were, my 28 and change year marriage would have ended at the one month mark.) In fact, if it’s someone I’m arguing with, I try to forget the unforgivable things we BOTH said. I’m pretty good at it.
Anyway, I don’t know if Mr. Card got more vociferous and general as he went on. One of my gay friends told me he had advocated having all gay people killed which, having read the original article and Mr. Card’s fiction, seems HIGHLY unlikely. I trust my friend, but I think she got something at a third or fourth remove.
To begin with let me say I disagree with Mr. Card’s premise in his article. His premise is the idea that if someone belongs to the “homosexual community” one will not be able to belong wholeheartedly to another. I’m not disputing how he came to that conclusion or that the conclusion was right for his time and circumstances. Part of it is that he identified the “homosexual community” as one that “gives access to sex.” While it undoubtedly is that, I can tell from my friends who stay in it when they’re in monogamous relationships, or whose community includes homosexuals of the other sex that this is not it. It’s “a community that grants you acceptance” and “a community where you don’t have to pretend.” (Keep those key phrases in mind, they’ll come up later in a different context. Also, there will be a test on Friday.) And this is the difference between giving that community all your allegiance and considering it just a part of your life, and not incompatible with your religion. When any community is excluded, goes underground, it becomes an all consuming milieu, reaching out to confuse your other allegiances. See, for instance, Catholics in Tudor England. It doesn’t however make that an inherent characteristic of whatever caused the community to appear. Presumably, in a world in which homosexuality is universally accepted with a shrug (whether such world is ever possible I leave for the science fiction writers in our midst. I doubt it) it becomes just one of those things. “My friend Mike is a nice guy. He likes cats and he reads science fiction. He makes cute sculptures of dragons. His husband is trying to get him to enter a con art show.”
BUT all that is to our purpose nothing, because the point is not whether I agree or disagree with Mr. Card or whether or not homosexuals are unable to participate in other communities because of dual loyalties.
No, the point is that as people talked more and more about what Card said, Mr. Card – who is to the left of me by some miles – became a pariah in science fiction. No, wait there. People attempted to make Mr. Card a pariah in science fiction… for saying that he didn’t think homosexuals could be good practitioners of their religion.
This would be like my writing an article for my church newsletter pointing out that you should pray daily and people coming down on me like a ton of bricks saying I wanted to force atheists to pray.
Wait – what?
A magazine devoted to a faith, saying who can or cannot – according to this person – in good conscience practice his faith while being true to his orientation has made a storm in science fiction as people posted defending and attacking him. HOW does that even happen? WHO CARES what the man thinks about who can and cannot practice his faith? Most of science fiction is atheistic, with some form of Wiccan running a close second… so far as I know. (That too will come up for discussion later.) For years I assumed being devout in one and steeped in the lore of another traditional religion I was an odd being and it was best for all if I kept my lip buttoned up in public. What do they care – truly – if Mr. Card believes that homosexuals can’t be good LDS members? I’d assume the LDS homosexuals among his readers would roll their eyes and go “place and time, and the man comes from it” – i.e., his opinions belong to a certain place and time, and then wonder when his next book will come out.
If I told you that those among you who have split fingernails cannot now nor ever join the Holy Church of Ritual Martian Flogging, would you go nuts? Would you engage in ritual cries of “kill the witch”? No? Okay, maybe it’s because the church is made up, so let me try this again with something not a church. How about if Orson Scott Card had said in a Chess Fanciers magazine that unless you knew how to play chess you shouldn’t join the club. Is that reason for outrage?
I mean, you can disagree with him, and with his analysis of the situation, but would you call him names over that? No?
Then why has this ignited a civil war, that has caused people like Brad Torgersen to be considered very bad for defending Card? What has caused the rift splitting the increasingly more irrelevant SFWA?
First of all, this civil war is a sign of a very sick community. Second, like the spike of fever that kills the virus, it’s a good thing, even though it looks like it might kill the patient.
We’ll start on how science fiction has been sick – onto the death.
Brad Torgersen says that science fiction should be a place to explore ideas, even (particularly) offensive and outrageous ideas, and that recently we’ve become bland.
It’s the particular way we’ve got bland and boring that is weird. REALLY WEIRD.
Science fiction is a literature of the Odds. That’s central to who we are. Most people don’t think about the technology and society they’re steeped in, for the same reason most fish (if they were sentient) wouldn’t think about water. But we do. We think about what societal what causes this, and how technology changes that, and then we foretell how it would change things. Or we say “in a society with magic, how would that affect—”
It’s our job.
At its inception science fiction gave free rein to all thoughts of weird thoughts. To this day science fiction allows a great leeway to personal behavior. If there is a place on Earth you can show up wearing a live duck and have people ask you about the technical details of the costume, it’s science fiction. To that extent, fans and other authors are “my people” and it’s a place I can decompress. Like gays in the bad closet days finding a place they could be themselves, science fiction conventions allow me to be my own weird self without people shying away from me. As a friend of mine puts it “we are the plaid sheep of our families.” And the best place to hide is the flock.
The problem is that any community – ANY community – but particularly an excluded community (see what I did there?) will tend to try to form cohesion along the lines of common thought and common belief. You might think that Odds would not try to enforce a rigid conformity, but you would be wrong.
It happened gradually. Part of it is that most of us are used to be looked at askance and treated like abnormal. A stunning number of us were bullied as children. This means we tend to have an over developed empathy with any group identified as “victims.” That, plus the fact that the publishing gatekeepers are the result of the long march and are – no, this is not under dispute – varying shades of red going from slightly to the right of Lenin to slightly to the left of Stalin. (Why is this not under dispute? Because of the number of authors who identify themselves as communist. Because there is in Science Fiction a young communist authors group. People OPENLY identify as communist, and there’s no repercussion in their careers. People don’t openly identify as conservative UNLESS they came in at a different time and their careers are secure. If you think that’s because only leftists are creative or that this means the community is becoming more enlightened, you are part of the problem. Go to the corner and meditate how identifying with a regime responsible for the death of a hundred million is “enlightened. Or how any community EVER has achieved uniformity of opinion, unless it is EXTERNAL and enforced by authorities. Good Lord, even today we have flat Earthers. BUT you think that everyone who writes science fiction just is magically “left”? I hope you are a fantasy author.)
I swear the eighties was a long slog of abused women in science fiction and fantasy books. They were always abused by their fathers, too, who were tyrannical evil sobs. The idea that mothers can be horrible parents too, never seemed to occur to these female writers. There was always a sisterhood of women. As someone who has known any number of ‘orrible mothers, and who went to an all girls’ school the whole “sisterhood of those who possess vaginas” made me want to shred kittens. (Shuddup. I didn’t do it. I’m just saying how mad it made me. You know how I feel about cats.) Even when the books were somewhat acceptable otherwise, it annoyed me to the point a lot of them went unread.
Then came the every woman a hero every man a wimp movement. (Yes, Athena is more than normal. Yes, she is strong. She is also hotheaded and foolish and, btw, Kit is far more than a match for her.) And then…
Well, every fad of the left falls into science fiction and fantasy books, even the patently, absurdly ridiculous. Like, oh, for instance, the idea that all male sexuality is dangerous, the idea that a society of women would be peaceful forever, the idea– Too much to go on. Suffice it to say the most awarded short story in our history – receiving every award in the field – posits that life in an American Suburb is more exclusionary and worse than life during China’s cultural revolution.
HOWEVER commentary by someone otherwise respected in the field, in a CHURCH magazine to the extent that homosexuals might have conflicts with being good LDS members occasions cries of “kill the witch.”
Oh, my people! Not only are you trying to enforce conformity, but you’re trying to enforce a conformity so out of touch with the rest of society that what you think is right and worthy to publish strikes most people as “OMG, kill.” Which probably explains the spiraling down print runs. Those of us already fans and writers yawn, the rest of the world backs away screaming.
This too is human – any excluded community will become more and more extreme – but is it art?
It’s been like this for years. In a way I’m gratified to know that indeed what we say and do even in other contexts is being tracked. Those of us on the right (to the extent a libertarian who, in the words of the Professor, believes it’s a good future when married gay couples have closets full of assault weapons and their kids once of legal age can buy pot at the corner store is “right” – which by itself is a mind-blowing idea) have long suspected this. Now that we see the enforcers of conformity publically turn on an icon in the field, all the stories we heard of silent blackballing at publishers, of whispers campaigns among fans seem starkly plausible. Likely even. Which is good. You’re not paranoid when they really are out to get you.
Again, the fact that to get published we had to go through a funnel of ideologically left editors and publishers (with the obvious exception) didn’t help.
So in a way, the civil war in the field has been going on forever. It’s only that it was a cold civil war. The rest of us wanted to get published. We kept our mouths shut. If we opened them only Baen would take us, and Baen has a limited number of author slots. (Plus some of the stuff we wanted – and by that I mean I wanted – to write is not Baen-like.) And baby had to have shoes. (In my case baby always wore specialty shoes because… well, at 21 he wears size seventeen.)
At World Fantasy, in 2003, the speaker, apropos nothing, assured us that Howard Dean was our next president. I can’t speak for my fellow righties in the closet (when a community is excluded it goes underground) but I could literally feel my face freeze at that. We were a captive audience, and there was no reason on Earth to bring in politics. Except the speaker could. And the establishment approved of it.
Think – would this be tolerated at any company dinner? Unless the company were “ye old factory of Democratic Party Buttons,” probably not, and even then, you know, supporters of other candidates might feel abused.
But in science fiction and fantasy, it was expected. It garnered applause. And those of us who were sick to our stomach had to applaud too. (In North Korea Dear Leader has a hundred percent of the vote and is applauded at every parade.)
So what has changed?
You know we’ve found that revolutions happen not when oppression is at its worse, but when it starts to liberalize. THEN, when people have options, they show what they always felt.
And so the civil war has gone hot, at least to the extent of heated words. I should mention here the kerfuffle between the Locus April Fool’s Day article and the ever more stereotypical Wiscon, in which the April Fool’s article having suggested that every con goer should have to wear a burka (which would be available up to size 5x) the feminists of wiscon became determined to prove they are in fact stereotypical feminists (how many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? That’s not FUNNY!!!) The last I heard that particular sub-branch of the civil war had devolved into feminist whining (yes, I’m going to get crucified. One wonders if they ever hear themselves) that this is just bullying and that noooooo one should say anything mean about either Islam or feminism. (What the h*ll makes THEM out of bounds?) and that besides, it stereotypes every feminist as fat (apparently this is based on a lack of reading comprehension. They missed where the burka was for BOTH sexes. Size 5x? Likely. Look, guys fandom is hefty. Maybe ebook readers that require us – yes, I said us. Could use losing sixty pounds — to run to keep them on would help?)
The beautiful thing? Despite the “that’s not funny” foot stomping, the “right” of the isle is not stopping. That Locus article got published, which I don’t think it would have been even five years ago. And authors are taking to the internet to mock the screams of “bully” by the people who don’t want EVER to be the bout of a joke. (Dear ladies, and particularly gentlemen, welcome to humanity. LEARN to laugh at yourself. It makes other jokes less likely.)
A lot of my colleagues who are engaging the left are DEPENDENT on traditional publishing other than Baen, which makes their stand even more brave.
However, even for those not engaging in it, there is already the awareness indie is there. Opening your mouth the wrong way doesn’t mean the end of your career.
Which means the war isn’t going to stop unless one of two things happens: one side emerges victorious; an armistice is reached.
News for my colleagues on the left: For years we’ve put up with whatever you dished out. We had to. We didn’t scream, we didn’t complain. We are even tolerant enough to like your books and admire your artistry, EVEN when we think what you’re proposing is wrong and perhaps evil (a world of all women. Communitarian worldwide societies.) We understand the difference between ideas and those who have them.
It’s harder for you. Politics is your religion.
However, I URGE you to come to terms as soon as possible.
Up till now given a limited output, already pre-veted, it was easy for you to freeze out anyone who outraged you. But indie has opened the sluice gates. You might (for all I know. Again, when a community is excluded, it goes underground) be a majority in sf writers now for all I know. I GUARANTEE you’re a tiny minority in the population. Now that the gates have opened and anyone can write SF and sell well and be admired, it probably won’t be long before you’re a minority in sf/f writing.
Do you really want to put what “we don’t all agree on” out of bounds. Is that what you want to do? Do you want to have horrible things said about you in the future because your character isn’t religious? Or heterosexual?
As someone who believes in equality before the law and definite differences between the sexes, someone who is – furthermore – a religious, heterosexual woman, I have found myself writing a super gurrrrl and a gay hero. Much to my own shock. Art is like that. It comes out of nowhere, womps you on the head and, if you’re lucky, the truth you write is bigger than yourself or your times. (I’m convinced Shakespeare thought he was writing regime propaganda and bawdy jokes. BUT his subconscious or his muse or G-d or whatever you wish to believe is behind it, had other plans.)
I don’t want to have stones thrown at me by the right OR the left because whatever I wrote doesn’t fit the message. You want a message? Use Western Union. You want art? You have to allow it to happen.
Which means you have to allow people the right to think freely. Yes, a lot of them will have stupid ideas. (What, you think your sh*t don’t stink?) Yes, a lot of them will offend you. (Communist ideas offend me, but do I come and shut you down?)
Unless someone actually has the power to send police to your door to enforce their stupid ideas, you can learn to live with it.
You do not in fact have the right to stop people thinking thoughts you don’t like. No, it’s not unfair and bullying if people laugh at you. Yes, it hurts like hell but there’s a reason for the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones.” And besides, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been aiming ridicule at the other side for years, in the firm belief there was no one here but us chickens. (Some of us are dragons. We just also happen to lay eggs.)
Now, either shake on it, shrug and go “the other side is a bunch of loons, but heck, some on my side are too” and then go write a novel or continue your fight to the death and make cons a lot more entertaining (I’ll have to attend more!) as you reenact the Hatfields and the McCoys. I’m fairly sure which side will win. And in either case, I don’t much care. As long as no one physically stops me from writing my own odd stuff, I couldn’t care less. And with the gatekeepers down, who is going to stop me?
The civil war turning hot just means one side is not being iced out. It’s a sign of freedom, and a sign this field might yet become healthy again.
And I have a novel to write.
UPDATE: Hey, look, I remembered to press the publish button! Kudos for me. I think that novel writing should come with a label “Warning, writing a novel might make the writer unfit to operate heavy (or light, like blenders!) machinery, mind small children, tie his/her own shoes or cross the street unaccompanied.
UPDATE: to subscribers, there will be content up this evening. This is tax-weekend and I just had “unexpected errands” tm as the tax preparer in the family is in the office dealing with the numbery (totally a word) things.