Okay, first of all I should confess I’ve been on Facebook – aka, what I use to correct for abnormally low blood pressure – again.
Second, I have to confess that Amanda Green covered this topic in her post at Mad Genius club today. There is an article in the Guardian book blog that made me want to pound my desk in fury. Amanda covers it, but not from the perspective I see. Or, to make it clearer, since it’s Saturday morning, I’m on insufficient caffeine and I am more than a little p*ssy, she shived it high and I intend to shiv it low.
The premise of the article, for those of you who don’t want to give traffic to the enlightened precincts of the Guardian (of course, are comments open? It might be fun, if you too are p*ssy) is that Science Fiction is written only by and about white heterosexual males.
This is when I found out that the Guardian is publishing from a secret time gateway set in the 1950s. In this world, New Wave, The New Weird, and all the other various changes in the field – that largely mirrored changes in society – never happened. There was never (and unfortunately I can’t remember the title) a story in which space travel was powered by male on male sex. There was no homosexuality in Dragon Riders of Pern (btw, written by a woman, unless they know something about Anne McCaffrey that I don’t) and one of the best regarded SF novels isn’t The Left Hand Of Darkness, also (last I checked) written by a woman, and featuring hermaphrodite humans. Also, in the same way, I guess, Ethan of Athos doesn’t count. (Might not, after all it came out from Baen!)
I disagree with Amanda on one thing: it’s not that there’s not enough gay/black/purple with pokadots people out there, it’s that people like the author of the Guardian article discount all of those that also happen to be fun entertainment. They’re all supposed to be about oppression, you see.
I agree with her on, to the extent the field is lacking in diversity that is more the fault of the editors than the writers. Part of this is that editors and publishers live in an enclave so WEIRD that their idea of middle America and what middle America (to the extent it still exists) will buy is oddly skewed to the fifties. Also, they don’t realize what will make us gag, even now, and so… their experiments back fire and confirm their prejudices.
When I was trying to publish the first book I wrote with gay characters (long ago – loooooong ago and far, far away) I talked to my (not Baen) editor about it. I was told she could not buy a book with gay male characters (though she said it was very well written) because she’d tried publishing this book with an heterosexual, married cross dresser and it didn’t sell at all.
The fact that she thought that heterosexual, married, crossdresser was the same as a committed gay couple made my jaw drop.
Are there heterosexual, married crossdressers? Sure. I used to know one. Are they anywhere representative of even the fringe? Uh… no.
Most people either have gay friends or have friends who have gay friends. But the only reason I knew even one heterosexual, married crossdresser is because I move in PROFOUNDLY odd circles. And even then it confused me. I couldn’t “get’ the psychological mechanism. This is not a matter of approving or not approving – it was his and his wife’s issue and none of mine – it is a matter of going “Oh, my, that’s odd.” Do I want to read a novel about it? Well… not particularly. If it’s well written, I’ll read anything, but the skill it would take on the author’s part to get me to board that train is rather more elevated than the skill needed to get me to read just about any other character. And that’s me. I’m weird. Most people would look at that setup and go “I don’t get it” and walk away without making any effort to read the book.
There is a high entry barrier there which there isn’t with say a gay male (or female) couple. I might not have ever been attracted to a woman, but my husband is in love with one (he tells me) so it’s a mechanism I can “get.” Unless it has explicit and repetitive sex (but that applies anywhere to any relationship in a book. It’s sad, but I’m not bibliosexual) I’m not going to have trouble reading that book.
Keep that concept in mind “high barrier to entry in the story” – it will come into play later.
Meanwhile, just think about it. My editor thought a married, heterosexual crossdresser was as much of a barrier to entry in a field as a committed gay couple who did not have sex on the screen, and where the main part of the plot was concerned with space piracy. Yep. Same thing.
I don’t honestly know if they set up these few things they let through to fail, or if they simply think that if they’re going to be daring they’ll go as extreme as possible. I don’t want to know. Of all the perverse minorities in the universe, getting into the mind of a NYC publisher is not worth my trouble. As well get in the mind of the Dk’fd of Alpha Centauri during their Mdt’xyz ritual.
However, let’s leave aside the idiotic perceptions of the writer of the article, who clearly is immured in 1950s Stratford upon Thrush and quite unable to see the many examples that violate his premise. (Or even that in recent decades the entrants to the field have been almost all female and certainly not all white) and concentrate on the topic of the article which, in my unbiased opinion can be transcribed as “Science fiction should be more representative, because wha wha wha, it should reflect the population.”
I’ve run into this argument before and – once I’m done hitting my head on the desk because it hurts less – I’m left bewildered for how to communicate to these people how fundamentally wrong they are. I mean, they’re starting from the wrong place and looking at it the wrong way. It’s roughly the equivalent of looking through your thumb at the sea and complaining that the sea is all flesh colored with a nail.
Perhaps it will help if I point out that this is a common error about writing. I used to tell my fledgelings, usually in a come-to-Jesus talk stuff like this: “Writing is not school. You don’t get published when you become “publishable.” Being publishable is the baseline you need to reach, of course, and I’m not saying here you even need to be better than that. It’s not a QUALITATIVE matter. It’s a matter of being good enough, yes, but that’s just the beginning, kind of like “you must be this tall to play”. After that, other things come into play. Like, you have to be able to hit the editor on a topic that interests him/her. It has to be on a day that for whatever reason they’re looking to accept a book or story (hole in schedule, for instance) and it has to be a story that, rightly or wrongly, they think they can market. To think that it’s a qualitative issue, as if you were in school, just makes you resentful, and it’s not even ¼ of it.”
This usually stopped them saying things like “Analog hates me. I’m sure my story was good enough, but they didn’t buy it.” If I had time I explained that I had three stories rejected because the mag had just bought something similar, and one of those reversed when the other story fell through. It had nothing to do with quality and everything to do with timing.
My point is that most writers – even I, in the beginning – view writing as school. We’re progressing, and as soon as we get “good enough” we’ll get published. Then when we get better, we’ll become bestsellers. This is bizarrely wrong and can hurt the writer. You could be writing the best male-pregnancy story out there, but if it squicks 99.9% of the editors reading it (and it will. Sorry. I stumbled across this, once, looking for details on an sf show I wanted to make a joke about in a book – and someone called it “the male pregnancy slash/the only fandom that comes with its own barf bag. It’s almost as bad as Duck Tails slash), it still won’t get published. It won’t get published even if your technique is like Heinlein crossed with the best parts of Pratchett. If you think it’s just quality you won’t step back and go “Oh, I see” and write something else.
In the same way, the Guardian article starts from the wrong premise. It’s all “Shouldn’t science fiction be more representative” and “Isn’t time that….”
The idea at the back of the writers’ brain seems to be that there is a worldwide department of literature that oversees science fiction. As a governmental entity, it behooves it to be representative. It SHOULD include a statistically correct sample of every ethnicity, orientation or fancy. It’s about time it started reflecting the world. Or something.
Look guys, this is creativity viewed by the eyes of someone without a creative bone in his body. (The fact that it also seems to be SFWA’s view is terrifying, but not anything I don’t expect.)
It’s also business viewed through the eyes of someone who never ran a lemonade stand.
First let’s start with “should” – why should it? What does it owe you? Do you ever go to the grocery store, not find your favorite type of canned beans and go “The store should carry beans for people who like this brand?” No, of course not. You sigh and buy the second best. Because the store is not there to represent everyone.
Okay – literature is, among other things, a business. I also often don’t find anything to represent me – say, space opera, with a lot of adventure and a touch of romance in the Heinlein style – or at least I don’t find it without something else I might or might not like. So, I settle. Because the world is not composed of me, and doesn’t revolve around my belly button.
So, what about representing society as it is? Isn’t that a worthy goal?
What? Why? WHY SHOULD IT BE? Particularly in a genre determined to depict the future?
The goal of any writer is to be read. To sell as many of his books as possible. This means that it might or might not represent anything in particular. And if it doesn’t – well, your problem.
The goal is to write books that will be read.
And then we come to how the writer brain works. In my case I get characters. Other people get plots. What I mean is we’re haunted by these things. They’re not rational, carefully calculated creations. We don’t sit down and go “I’ll have 1% lesbian Hispanics.” If we need lesbian Hispanics in the story, they tend to fall in, either to fulfill the plot that haunts us, or because they show up in your head and go, “Hey, chickie, write me.”
(This incidentally is why talk about writers abandoning an audience to chase another make me giggle. Yes, there are or might be some writers who do that, but most of us are simply nto that much in control, not matter what we say about it in public.)
And as for “Should” – WHY? WHO DOES IT SERVE?
Let’s suppose I could teach the world to fire lasers in perfect harmony… so what?
Even if the book became a blockbuster… then what?
People who think reading a book with a particular character will “change the world” overestimate both the plasticity of the world and the importance of any one book or even any one genre.
For years our commercials have shown a perfectly blended society, but the blending of races has continued at the same pace or lack thereof as before, depending on regional quirks and the culture. And commercials are watched by a lot more people than read SF.
So, until they institute a department of science fiction, to produce the stuff by the yard, the Guardian cognoscenti can gaze upon BOTH my middle fingers.
Could? Should? WHAT kind of language is that to refer to a creative endeavor? And who died and made you the boss of me?
You want science fiction by the numbers, there is already plenty on the market? Don’t like that? Write your own.
It’s a free country or at least this writer is determined to act as though it were.
Molon labe, you slaves of bureaucratic thought.
You and your diverse mama. Go write yourself your onanistic exercises in correct think. There must be some twisted souls out there who would like them.